Producer: Rodriguez Sanzo
Country Hierarchy: Castilla y Leon, Spain
Food Suggestion: Lamb
Wine Style: Red – Rich and Intense
Alcohol Content: 13 – 14%
Toro is a wine region in Castilla y Leon, north-western Spain, known for its powerful red wines made from Tempranillo. It is named for the town of Toro, an ancient settlement located on the Duero River (which bisects the region’s northern half) just 40 miles (65km) east of the Portuguese border. The Spanish word toro means ‘bull’, and while it is unclear precisely how the town’s name came about, the bull is nonetheless a fitting symbol for robust, red Toro wines.
Wines made around Toro have been respected for many hundreds of years (viniculture here dates back to pre-Roman times). They were popular with royalty as far back as the 13th Century, when King Alfonso IX of Leon said ‘tengo un Toro que me da vino y un León que me lo bebe’ (I have a bull who gives me wine and a lion who drinks it). In this witty play on words, the bull is Toro and the lion is the Kingdom of Leon.
The Duero viewed from Toro © Julien Miquel
In terms of grape varieties, Tinta de Toro (the local form of Tempranillo) is by far the dominant grape variety in Toro. A tiny amount of Garnacha is also grown, mostly for use in Toro Rosado (the region’s rosé wine), alongside small quantities of Malvasia Blanca and Verdejofor use in white Toro Blanco.
Toro’s climate is decidedly continental, just like the other wine regions of the Castilian plateau (neighboring Rueda, Cigales and Ribera del Duero). This means hot, dry summers followed by cold, harsh winters. Although the vast expanses of the Atlantic Ocean lie both to the north and west, Toro’s vineyards are deprived of any significant maritime influence by the Cordillera Cantábrica, the mountain range that separates Castilla y Leon from Spain’s north coast. Temperatures here range from 12F to 97F (–11C to 36C), and the annual rainfall average is very low – just 14in (350mm). The Duero River provides a much-needed source of water, and vineyards stray very little from its path.
Altitude plays an important role in Toro’s terroir. The region lies at the very heart of Castilla y Leon, on the vast, high plateau that separates the Cordillera Cantábrica and Sistema Central mountain ranges. Most Toro vineyards sit at altitudes between 2000ft (600m) and 2800ft (850m) above sea level, which helps to cool the climate slightly; air temperature drops about 1.1F/0.6C with every 330ft/100m of altitude.
High daytime temperatures, low rainfall and abundant sunshine combine to create powerful, high-alcohol wines. If left unchecked, Toro’s Tempranillo grapes would ripen with very high potential alcohol, resulting in wines of up to 16% alcohol by volume (ABV). Local wine laws (as administered by the Consejo Regulador de Toro) impose an upper limit of 15% ABV, but in practice most producers try to keep alcohol levels below 13.5% in order to keep the wines approachable and balanced. Toro’s red wines may be labeled with terms such as Joven, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva (see Spanish Wine Label Information). These indicate how long a wine is aged before commercial release.
Toro’s obvious potential as a wine region has encouraged wine producers from other regions (both Spanish and foreign) to establish wineries there. Prominent among these are Numanthia-Termes, Vega Sicilia Pintia, Bodegas Mauro (Eduardo Garcia) and Campo Elíseo (Michel Rolland and Francois Lurton). This increasing interest has helped to rejuvenate the Toro region and its wines – an effect which has spilled over into other parts of Castilla y Leon.
Tempranillo is a red grape variety which forms the backbone of some of the finest wines from Spain and Portugal. Almost every red wine from Rioja and Ribera del Duero has Tempranillo at its core, and in Portugal the variety is widely used in the Douro Valley – under the name Tinta Roriz – both for table wines and fortified wines (Port). Tempranillo vines have been successfully adopted in the New World, especially in California, Argentina and Australia.
Tempranillo means “little early one”, a name given to it by Spanish growers who observed its habit of ripening earlier than Garnacha (Grenache), its traditional Spanish blending partner. DNA studies suggest that the grape originated in Rioja and Navarra, and the lack of clonal variation among the various locations where it is planted indicate that it has only spread through Spain relatively recently. In fact there is now suggestions of a backlash among some wineries outside the grape’s heartland, in favor of longer-established but neglected local varieties.
A thick-skinned red grape with a high anthocyanin count that makes for deep-colored wines with moderate tannins, Tempranillo is well suited to modern consumer tastes. While the variety lacks its own idiosyncratic flavor profile, the wide range of aromas detectable in Tempranillo-based wines result in tasting notes ranging from strawberries, blackcurrants and cherries to prunes, chocolate and tobacco depending on vineyard age and mesoclimate.
Oak and Tempranillo certainly marry well together. American oak is the traditional choice of winemakers in Rioja, and Tempranillo’s flavor profile integrates well with the vanilla and coconut notes imparted by new American oak barrels. Further west in Ribera del Duero, the fashion is to use higher proportions of French and used-oak barrels to allow Tempranillo’s fruit to shine with a focus on more spiced oak flavors. However, with time, the two styles have been gradually consolidating and the consumer can now find complex wines made with an oak regime combining all of these options.
Tempranillo grapes are not known for their naturally high acidity, and it is possible to find flat, overblown wines from the baked plains of La Mancha, which clearly indicate a wine from a hot, flat environment (“manxa” means “parched earth” in Arabic). On the other hand, this lack of abundant acidity (when compared to Spanish red-wine grape Graciano) serves Tempranillo well when it grows in topographically diverse regions with high diurnal temperature variation.
The variety does best when hot, sunny days allow its thick-skinned berries to ripen fully, with cold nights to help them to retain their natural acid balance. The result is bright, lively, fruit-driven wines with just the right balance of warmth and tanginess. And this is where Tempranillo comes into its own. It is no surprise, then, that the continental terroirs of Argentina and Australia have been the first New World regions to adopt Tempranillo.
As is the case with Garnacha (Grenache), Tempranillo lends itself well to cultivation in bush vine or “goblet” form, which is how it has traditionally been grown across the Iberian Peninsula. The freedom of bush vines is thought to encourage the development of the resulting wines’ fruitier flavors, although many Spanish growers are now obtaining good results from Tempranillo vines trained on wires. Being a vigorous variety, a fearless pruning regimen is essential to keep fruit quality at its best.
Tempranillo may be an Old World grape, but producers there are taking the New World’s lead when it comes to bottle labeling. It is increasingly common to see Tempranillo proudly displayed on wine labels in conjunction with the more traditional geographical indicator.
Spain: Cencibel, Tinto Fino, Tinto del Pais, Tinto de Toro, Tinto Madrid, Ojo de Liebre, Ull de Llebre.
Portugal: Aragones, Aragonez, Tinta Aragoneza, Arinto Tinto, Tinta Roriz, Tinta de Santiago.
Food matches for Tempranillo wines include:
- Roasted red peppers stuffed with rice and morcilla blood sausage
- Brazilian pork and bean stew (feijoada)
- Roast lamb with redcurrant jelly
(sources : wine-searcher)