Toro has a long history of wine production, but its modern incarnation is noted for its blockbuster red wines and huge support from wine critics around the world. There are plenty of people around who don’t like the boldness that is a trademark of the region, but many wine lovers collect and drink these wines for that very trait.
Toro lies just to the west of Rueda and Ribera del Duero on the Western edge of Spain’s central plateau and near the end of the Spanish part of Duero river valley. It’s only 50km or so from the boarder with Portugal. The name of the region comes from the little town of Toro, which is a quick drive west from Valladolid and east from Zamora. Part of the DO was historically called Tierra del Pan due to the wheat fields that surround the area. For some reason much of the area call Tierra del Vino is outside the DO boundaries, to the south west towards Portugal.
The predominate variety grown here is Tinta de Toro, the local clone of Tempranillo, however there is some garnarcha that is mostly used for rosados. It was rumoured for many years that Tinta de Toro was actually Toriga Naccional, Portugal’s famous grape from the Douro Valley, just 50 Kms to the west of Toro. However genetic profiling has this not to be the case. There is also some Cabernet Sauvignon grown here, however it has not been approved by the regulator for use in DO wines. There are some white varieties grown, both Verdejo and Malvasia are grown in small quantities but it would appear that these wines are generally for local consumption.
Wine production in Toro goes back to Roman times, however the modernisation of the region over the past 30 years has seen Toro wines burst back onto the world stage. Like many of it’s neighboring wine producing regions, Toro did great trade servicing the nobility, the church and scholarly types in Valladolid and thrived for many years. In fact King Alfonso IX granted land to many churches on the basis that they would produce wine. Wine has continued to be made here for centuries, but it has been in the last 15 years that the region has hit the world stage in a big way.
The rising price of land in Ribera del Duero and relatively large areas of old vine vineyards in Toro tempted a number of high profile producers to Toro in the late 80s/early 90s. Vega Sicilia, Pesqurea, The Egurens, and Mariano Garcia all bought up vineyards in or around the region and have built up a loyal following for their wines in both Spain and around the world. All of this prompted yet another land boom and the resulting wines received very high praise from wine critics around the world (Termanthia 2004 received one of Jay Miller’s 100pt ratings in The Wine Advocate). Shortly after receiving the big gong, LMVH bought the Numanthia estate from the Eguren family, who are now developing another project in Toro.
Climate and Geography
Toro sits a touch lower than Ribera del Duero at 620-750 meters. As with many of the regions on the plateau, summers are very hot (up to 40°C) with very high sunlight levels during the day and large temperature drops at night. The winters are freezing (down to -11°C) with snow at times. As a result, frost is always an issue over autumn and spring. Rain fall is on the very low end, 350mm to 500 mm, with some years recently dropping well bellow the level of desert (300mm).
As with Ribera del Duero, the vineyards are mostly planted around the Duero River and its tributaries in on well-drained, sandy soil on a clay base, the higher areas have large pebbles with some old river beds on some sites as well.
Wine making and styles
For the most part the wines are made from 100% Tempranillo, the odd blend with garnarcha or cabernet popping up from time to time. The crianza system is prescribed by the regulator, however many producers choose to ignore this and produce wine in whatever style they like. Some good examples are Numanthia and Telmo Rodriguez’s Toro wines. Joven wines are very popular, and along with Ribera del Duero, Toro makes some of the best wines of this style. The media-crianza craze has taken hold here as well, however the results are mixed and you need to look to good producers to find a wothwhile example. Prices for local wines remain fairly cheap, while at the top end the sky is the limit.
Due to the high levels of sunlight and low rainfall, Tempranillo grown in Toro tends to have thinker skins and smaller berries which leads to bigger, bolder wines with great concentration and power. To quote Xavier Ausas from Vega Siciclia “everything in Toro is done up a gear from Ribera del Duero”. High extraction, concentration and bold flavours characterise the red wines of Toro. This might sound like some kind of monster, but most wines are well balanced and still show plenty of old world charm. Alcohol levels are bear watching, 14+% is fairly standard and there is a limit of 15% imposed by the regulator. There is also the temptation to throw loads of new oak at all this supercharged fruit, generally the better producers have their oak treatment sorted this out. Overall the best wines from Toro show great restraint and careful fruit management in the vineyard to produce roust and full flavoured wines that are world class.