As a kid, I explored the woods across the street from my parent’s house in midtown Atlanta. To me, this expansive forest begged to be wandered, poked and prodded. As I got older — although the public land holdings didn’t shrink — the forest strangely transformed into a smaller park and now I giggle about how my perceived pioneering took place over a measly six acres. How perspectives change as we mature.
My intellectual pioneering now takes place in the vast forests of wine regions. Ten years ago, before I poked and prodded the regions of Spain, I only knew the larger, well-known areas of Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Sherry. Slowly, I discovered and explored the affordable red Garnachas of Jumilla, the dark and dusty wines of Priorat, the fragrant and tart Albariño whites of Rías Baixas, sparklers of Penedès and the vinous melting pot of La Mancha. And I continue to uncover regions that we Americans haven’t tried much of. Like wine from Toro, a Denominaciónes de Origin (DO – what is this?) within the Castilla y León region of central Spain, northwest of Madrid. (Their website.) Perhaps we weren’t ready to try these massively concentrated, Tempranillo-based wines. Or maybe, since the DO wasn’t established until 1987, the wineries of Toro weren’t ready for the big show. They are now.
Winemaking in this region dates back to the first century B.C., when the ancient Greeks settled in and taught the natives how to craft a party from the sandy, rocky soils not fit for much else. This soil came in handy later on. In the late 1800’s, when much of Europe’s vines were decimated by the root-eating louse phylloxera (what is this?), Toro’s growing environment warded off the pest and many of the vines throughout the region are ancient, still producing small quantities of fruit.
Toro wines are made from the Tinto de Toro grape, a colloquial synonym for a diminuative version of Tempranillo, the fruit of wines from Rioja and Ribera del Duero. The government regulations of the DO only allow for Tinto de Toro (red), Garnacha (red, same as Grenache) Malvasia (white), Verdelho (white) and Moscadelle (white) grapes to be grown. These grapes thrive in the extreme weather of Toro – hot, sunny and dry with little rainfall. In essence, it’s like a spa for thick-skinned winegrapes.
Toro translates to “bull” in Spanish, and if bulls could be bottled as wine, they would be the massively robust red wines of Toro. They are not for the feight of heart. Like most Spanish wines, wineries employ five quality level designates, based on how long the wine sits in oak barrels (from least to longest): Joven, Roble, Crianza (or Crianca), Reserva and Gran Reserva. This usually dictates price as well, but not necessarily value.
Since the DO was only approved less than 25 years ago, Toro only has about 50 wineries and not many export to the U.S. yet. One you can find is Numanthia, a modern, high-end, multi-award-winning winery established in 2000. They farm a large vineyard of old, bushy vines organically, using no pesticides to preserve the health of the soil. Manuel Louzada, winemaker since 2006, has had an illustrious career fermenting juice all over the globe, calling them wines “to eat with a fork and knife”. Indeed, each one of his creations are lovely, meaty and burst with black fruit. You might call them intense and they most definitely need some fatty food to tame the tannins. Cellaring for several years is highly recommended. At a recent tasting, out of three wines (2006 Termes, 2006 Numanthia and 2006 Termanthia) my favorite was the rich, concentrated Termanthia: ripe plum, black cherry, great acidity, layers of soft fruit, oak, cinnamon, cocoa and cedar. Elegance defined.
If you’re a fan of elegant yet forceful reds, seek out Toro. Your inner bull will rejoice.