Toro is as bold as its name suggests. On the top of the hill on which the town sits, stands a striking medieval fortress. In front of this defensive Alcázar is a statue of a solid bull, the totem of the Celtiberian people, dating back to the 1st century BC. Did it give its name to the town? It certainly did, successfully symbolising the enduring character of the local people and their vines.
Winemaking in Toro stretches back centuries. A favoured wine of Spain’s kings, it made its mark on the country’s early search for empire, as it was the wine that accompanied Cristobal Colón (Christopher Columbus) on his journeys to the New World. Its alcohol levels made it a reliably sturdy companion on long sea voyages. In recent history, the region’s poor, sandy soils protected it from phylloxera, meaning that Toro’s wine industry could survive and supply wine to other regions.
The other Duero appellation
This historic wine producing area lies within the provinces of Zamora and Valladolid (80% and 20% of surface area respectively), and is the most westerly of the large and diverse region of Castilla y León, 40 miles east of the Portuguese border. Toro is the strategic point where the key roads in the DO cross the river, meet, and diverge. Look out across the plain below the Alcázar and you will see the old roman bridge and a glistening river. This is the River Duero. If you read wine textbooks you might think that there were only two significant wine regions along the river: Ribera del Duero, and Portugal’s Douro. Yet between them lies Toro, which could clearly have been given the name of ‘Toro del Duero DO’. The DO is roughly square, and the Duero cuts across the top. Given the low rainfall, the river and its tributaries are significant in their influence on microclimate, and on the vineyard sites.
The Toro DO was created in 1987, although it was first recorded as a specific appellation in 1932. In the intervening years came the Spanish Civil War and subsequent economic depression. As a result, when the denomination was formally created there were just five bodegas. There are 65 today, with 981 registered growers. Altogether the DO covers 62,000 ha of land, of which 8000ha of under vine, and 5418 ha of the latter registered within the Consejo Regulador. The DO has six permitted grape varieties. Two are red: Tinta de Toro (around 95% of Toro’s wines are red, and nearly all of them are made with Tinta de Toro, otherwise known as Tempranillo) and Garnacha. Four are white: the more established Verdejo and Malvasía Castellana, with Moscatel de Grano Menudo and Albillo Real authorised since January 2021.
Like every traditional wine region, Toro’s first releases, near the end of the year of harvest, are carbonic maceration wines. The character of Tinta de Toro means it easily produces a fragrant, full-bodied, flavoursome young wine, like Bodegas Fariña’s Primero, a punchily fresh and juicy affair. Still, the heart of Toro is its reds, as bold and foursquare as the monumental bull in front of the Alcázar. While the classic categories of Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva prevail, there are changes under way. It’s possible to see a transition from all high toast American oak ageing to a blend of American and French, or just French. Some producers are using less new oak, and much larger vats. Many are successfully producing bold wines which nevertheless have well balanced freshness. A Tinta de Toro has many of the characteristics of a Black Forest Gateau without the cream: dark fruit, richness, chocolate. In face of this diversity, get to know the wines, and follow the producers you enjoy.
Repertoire of classic grape varieties
Tempranillo has many names across Spain – in Castilla y León they include Tinta de Toro and Tinta Fina (in Ribera del Duero). But stand in a Toro vineyard and it’s very clear that while widely understood to be Tempranillo, there are marked differences in the local plants. The Tinta de Toro leaf has five very distinct and defined ‘fingers’; the skin of the berry is thicker, and the phenolics are higher, delivering the typically deeper coloured, tannic wines. According to the DO, Tempranillo and Tinta de Toro are genotypes, sharing a genetic code. However, they are not phenotypes, as they have obvious physical differences. Eduardo Garcia of San Román (who with his father and brother works in Toro, Ribera del Duero, Castilla y León and Rioja) is something of an expert in the many faces of Tempranillo. For him, its best version is definitely found here, and they have taken it to vineyards in other DOs to trial.
While Garnacha has become a hero variety in many regions of Spain, here – a land where the wines are seriously dark – it must battle to make itself heard. It was formerly just a variety for rosados and for blending, but red wines from 100 per cent Garnacha are now permitted. Why would you fight to make and sell Garnacha in a place where Tinta de Toro is so strong? For the producers’ point of view, the truth is that Garnacha performs well in this extreme climate. For the consumer, the wine it produces have an appealing drinkability. The wines are undoubtedly paler and lighter than the inky Tinta de Toro.
Serious dry white wines have been rare in Toro, but there has been a definite increase in experimentation within the last five or so years, with impressive results. Malvasía Castellana is known further north as Doña Blanca, and Wine Grapes (Robinson et al.) says it is the very old variety known as Síria. In Portugal it is the second most planted white grape. The styles are still developing, but the best wines are really promising, aromatic, with good freshness. Verdejo, established as Rueda’s keynote grape, produces top-selling wines in Spain. As a more resistant variety than Malvasia Castellana it clearly has advantages for growers.
The most recent white additions to the register of permitted varieties already have some history in the region. Moscatel de Grano Menudo is the small-berried Muscat, known in France as Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, which typically produces succulent sweet wines, though it can also make aromatic dry wines. Teso la Monja’s delicious Colorín (made only for personal use) proves how good Toro’s sweet wines can be. The second white variety to be approved in 2021 was Albillo Real, also recently approved in Ribera del Duero, and is the main white variety in Cebreros, north of Madrid. It produces dry wines, supple and golden.
Whatever the variety, possibly the greatest challenge in the vineyard is esca, the devastating disease that attacks the vine trunk and is an international threat. The other problem, adds one grower, is a global one, of a different nature: how to get young people to commit to living in the countryside and working in viticulture, year-round, not just at harvest.
What makes Toro different
Altitude: 700-800m above sea level
Climate: extreme continental climate. The mean annual temperature is 12-13 degrees, with a minimum of -8ºC and a maximum of 37ºC. Annual rainfall averages 300mm.
Sunlight: 2600-3000 sunshine hours/year.
Soils: Toro’s terroir is diverse, a mix of sands, gravels, clays, limestone and rounded stones and pebbles. In the north of the DO there are large, rounded stones, much like in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, delivering rich, riper wines. Elsewhere, the sandier soils, some with limestone, can deliver a lighter style.
Phylloxera (lack of): the bonus of the sandy, free-draining soils is that the phylloxera louse could not establish itself. Nowadays the Consejo Regulador requires new plantings on resistant rootstocks, but Toro’s heritage is its ‘pie franco’ (ungrafted) vines.
Old vines: The consequence of being free of phylloxera is that Toro has a significant heritage of old plantings, in both pre-phylloxeric and own-rooted old bush vines.
Organics: according to DO’s General Manager, Rubén Gil, potentially 90% of the vineyard area could qualify as organic. In fact, many fewer are registered because of the required paperwork. Several producers, including San Román and Teso la Monja, are practising biodynamics.
The appeal of Toro
Toro’s potential has not escaped outside investors. The Eguren family from Rioja launched Numanthia. They sold to LVMH, the current owners, before founding Teso la Monja. Vega Sicilia came from Ribera del Duero to establish Pintia after their winemaker at the time, Mariano Garcia, recognised the raw quality of Toro. He and his sons have their own project – San Román. From Bordeaux came François Lurton, who now runs the Burdigala brand with Michel and Dany Rolland. One of the draws for outside investors was the centenarian vineyards and the freedom from phylloxera. The concentrated, low-yielding fruit from the old bush vines is a real treasure-store. This potential was recognised, and of course the land was cheaper. There are other factors: Victoria Benavides of Elías Mora says she was drawn by the warmth of the people, as well as the quality of the diverse soils.
There’s an old saying that “Toro es medicina para otros” (‘Toro is medicine for others’). That’s to say the hearty Tinta de Toro gives colour, alcohol and fruit, a shot in the arm to weaker wines, including in other regions. In poor vintages, Toro wine could be sold to desperate producers in other regions who were willing to pay good money for ‘medicine’ to ‘cure’ their lack of fruit. What is clear is that Toro does not need to give others ‘medicine’ any longer. It recognises the quality of its terroir and its own grapes and can proudly defend the individuality of the wines they yield. The celtiberian bull is a daily reminder of Toro’s independent spirit.
Toro: 30 wines to try
San Román, Malvasía 2020
£38 DP ex VAT City Wine Collection (2017)
This is the kind of wine to put Malvasía Castellana on the map. From a 60-year-old vineyard. Fermented in 500l barrels and aged for 10 months. A delicate pale green colour, with equally green aromas of lemon and lime. The palate is alight with freshness, limpid, and finely balanced with its very welcome. Alcohol 12.5%
Dominio del Bendito, Mi Verdadejo 2018
One after another, different wines appear from the stores of Frenchman Antony Terryn’s new winery. Begin with this supple, textured Verdejo, with its honeyed palate and a long, warm finish. Barrel fermented and aged for 8 months. The wine used to see 100% new oak, but Terryn has cut that back, to the benefit of the wine. Vinolok closure. Alc 14%
Numanthia, Termes Blanco 2020
The first white from the Numanthia family, majority Malvasia. Leesy aromas, followed on by a brisk, almost rustic energy. It shows fine tension, with green herbs, lime zest, pink grapefruit and some minerality. While there is oak on the winemaking datasheet, it’s hardly perceptible. Long finish. Alc 13.5%
Matsu, La Jefa Malvasía 2020
£26 (Malvasia y otras) Ultracomida
The great thing about La Jefa (‘the chief’) is the label, a portrait of a very striking woman. This is the fourth in a series from these producers, each with a powerful portrait. This is Malvasía Castellana, with a little Viura and Albillo. La Jefa has spent 14 months in 600l French oak giving a rich, mouth-filling impression, but the wood is subtle. Honeyed with notes of crystallised lemons. Will improve with bottle age. Alc 13%
Monte La Reina, Castillo de Monte La Reina Verdejo 2020
Delicate, light, creamy, fresh aroma with a suggestion of minerality. The wine arrives silkily in the mouth, with notes of lemon and fennel, revealing a mid-palate that is bright and crisp, with a mouthwatering edge. It finishes with a clean, refreshing punchiness. Alc 13%
Liberalia, Pajarita Verdejo Sobre Lías 2020
A young Verdejo with youthful, cool ferment aromas, and even a hint of rhubarb. In the mouth it arrives with a vivid punchiness and a fine texture. Resounding long finish. Alc 13.5%
San Román, Cartago 2016
(2013, DP ex VAT) City Wine Collection; 2016 available in US finewine.com $166.99
The Paraje del Pozo is a single vineyard of Tinta del Toro with some other varieties, aged for 30 months in barrel. Strikingly elegant despite its immense power. The essence of Toro is contained in this dense, full-flavoured wine with firm tannins. Certified organic, working with biodynamics. Alc 14.5%
Teso La Monja, Alabaster 2018
Rioja’s Eguren family, Numanthia’s original owners, next invested in Toro to establish Teso la Monja, based on centenarian ‘pie franco’ (ungrafted) vines. A vertical of Alabaster, back to 2007, proved its ageability but also, with the 2018, the ability to be enjoyed now. The fruit is destemmed, berry by berry, fermented in open French oak deposits and aged for 16-19 months in new French oak. Ripe fleshy palate, with succulent fruit, spicy notes and supple tannins. Alc 14.5%
Bodegas Fariña, Gran Colegiata Original 2015
Fariña is one of the founding families of Toro, and the Colegiata is the historic church at the centre of Toro itself. A classic Toro Reserva, from ungrafted vineyards, aged in American oak for 18 months and in bottle for 3 years. Smooth, with blueberry and cranberry fruit, topped by a hint of orange, and layered with refined oak. Alc 14%
Tempos Vega Sicilia, Pintia 2016
£55-£60 Caviste, Noble Green
Reveals the quality of the 2016 vintage. Toro is all about power, but this Pintia harnesses the black and red fruits while also bringing out fine freshness. Firm, well-structured tannins. Aged in oak (70% French, 30% American) for one year. Alc 14.5%
Dominio del Bendito, El Primer Paso 2019
£24 (coming in 2022) Raymond Reynolds
One of the entry level wines in Anthony Terryn’s portfolio, but none the worse for that. A different expression of Toro, full of redcurrants and plums, supple with fine freshness. Subtly aged in oak for six months. Organic. Alc 15%
Bodegas Francisco Casas, Viña Abba 2015
93 £19 Friarwood
Is it named after the Swedish singing sensation, or the Aramaic word for father? Smiling, producer Francisco Casas admits both are possible. 14 months in oak, 60% French and 40% American. His 100% Tinta de Toro has a fine woodsmoke and red cherry aroma. There are fresh red cherries on the palate too, with a lift of acidity. Vivid, refreshing, not especially intense. But with a long finish, with the perfumed crunch of a rosy red apple. Alc 14.5%
Bodegas Piedra, Lagarona 2016
Lagarona is a blend of old vine Tinta de Toro with 25% Garnacha, aged for 16 months in French oak, and 2 years in bottle. Lovely floral aromas with notes of garrigue. Full of chocolate and mocha richness but cut with darts of citrus. There’s a broad sweep of firm tannin. Overall, a midweight, approachable style.
Elías Mora, Gran Elías Mora 2014
£202.50 for 6 DP Christopher Keiller
Victoria Benavides generously named her winery after the first grower who sold her grapes. Winemaking may not have been first career (she was working as an administrator in local government), but she is now firmly established. With an iron fist in a velvet glove, this Gran Elías is perfumed with violets and dark fruits. While powerful it is also fresh. Very classic: warm, traditional, elegant. 17 months in French oak. Alc 14.5%
Matsu, El Recio 2019
Spicy Tinta de Toro, 100% destemmed, fermented in concrete and aged for 14 months in second use French and Eastern European oak, giving refined cedar and mint. The palate is all about dark red fruits, with rounded tannins and a full body. Alc 14.5%
Vega Saúco, Piedras y Princesas Crianza 2015
Wenceslao ‘Wences’ Gil Durantez arrived in Toro in 1978 and set up Vega Saúco in 1991. In addition to classic Crianzas and Reservas he makes a late harvest Tinta de Toro (with 42 g/l of residual sugar), and a sparkling red. Piedras y Princesas is the result of a project with a selection of clones. The palate is as youthful as the label, bursting with red fruits and chocolatey richness. A 2015 vintage but still young. Alc 14.5%
Burdigala, Campo Eliseo 2015
Burdigala is the Roman name for Bordeaux, refelecting the origin and influences of the owners, Francois Lurton and Michel & Dany Rolland. The wine, full of cherry, liquorice and sweet spices, is aged in new French oak for 16 months.
Cyan, Prestigio, Tinto Reserva 2016
Prestigio has lovely cherry fruit with notes of garrigue. The fresh palate, with fine textured tannins, flows evenly and elegantly. Aged for 16 months in French oak, followed by 12 in bottle. Organic. Alc 15%
Frutos Villar, Muruve Roble 2019
For lovers of Tinta de Toro woven with toasty oak (it spends 4 months in American oak). The palate is fleshy with bundles of joyous black fruit conserve. There’s a cheerful lift of acidity and then a charcoal sign off. Needs a bit more time to settle into itself. Frutos Villar was the first winery to settle and market wines from Toro, in 1920.
Numanthia, Numanthia 2016
£40-46 Farr, Clos 19
This one jumps out of the glass, promising power and ripeness. So it delivers: with impressive character of polished, roasted dark fruits, layered with toasty tobacco and oak. Numanthia is on the move, already revealing more subtle management of concentration and oak. Will be certified organic from 2019. Alc 15%
Rodríguez Sanzo, Las Tierras de J. Rodríguez Garnacha Tinta 2020
A promise of bright cherry-fruited Garnacha on the nose. In the mouth, dark cherries and damsons, a lively rasp of tannin, and a punch of acidity. Very powerful finish that really explodes on the end. Full of energy. From 60–80-year-old vines on the sandy soils of San Roman de Hornija. Fermented and aged in large French oak vats for 12 months. Proof that there is more to Toro than Tinta de Toro. Alc 14.5%
Bodegas Piedra, Auroch Garnacha 2020
Really promising Garnacha, with alluring juicy aromas. While not especially deep in colour, it is full of flavour. Full-bodied, with red cherries, peppery spice, and a firm crunch. Dense, dark warm finish. Alc 14.5%
Bodegas Vatán, Vatán 2018
N/A UK but stockists in USA for 2017
Named after a tributary of the Duero, the Vatán. From a pie franco – own rooted – vineyard planted in 1900. Aged in French oak for 22 months. Lightly smoky aroma backed by dark fruits. A rich, almost chocolatey approach followed by dark cherry and dark chocolate sauce. Still, the wine isn’t too weighty. Alc 15%
Sobreño, Finca Sobreño Ildefonso 2017
From the oldest 80+ year old vines of the estate. Fermented in 2000l open top fermenters, followed by 18 months in new French oak. Laden with blackcurrrant preserves. A powerful Toro, rich and intense, with punchy freshness, smoky oak and sweet spices. Alc 14.5%
Viñaguareña Munia Roble 2020
£12.50 (2019) Lea & Sandeman
With plenty of roasted red fruits on the nose. A rush of plump fruit in the mouth. Juicy with mild tannin, relieved by a brisk lift of acid. Finish has a good, savoury, stoney warmth. Six months in oak have given it a much more defined character. Alc 14.5%
Matarredonda, Libranza 2015
Libranza sees 14 months in French oak, as it reveals aromatically. However, the palate is alight with red cherries, vanilla, cream, strawberries and freshness. A slow starter perhaps, but finishes well. Alc 14.5%
Monte La Reina, Castillo Monte Reina Crianza 2018
£13.50 (2016) Experience wine
The Castillo of Monte la Reina is a striking 19th century neo-Gothic edifice, and the vineyards were created following the launch of the Toro DO. This Crianza, with its 12 months in French oak, is refreshingly light, with notes of red cherries. Alc 14%
Torreduero, Viore Roble 2020
A youthful Tinta de Toro with roasted red and black plums. Full-bodied, juicy, supple and smooth with a hint of roasted nuts. The five months in oak are clearly apparent. Alc 14.5%
Pagos del Rey, El Pugil 2020
£7.71 Matthew Clark
Pagos del Rey, part of the extensive Felix Solís group, has converted a former winery into a wine museum in Morales del Toro. El Pugil, the prize fighter, is a generously fruited number, made for wine by the glass. Alc 13.5%