Spanish wine is on a serious up-tick these days, the quality is high and price is low, which makes the palate and the wallet very happy.
Toro was devastated by phylloxera in the late nineteenth century and it wasn't until really the late eighties that they started to get back on their feet collectively and they are becoming one of the Spain's rising stars, one to keep your eyes and empty glass on.
I was invited to this wonderful tasting in the none-the-other than Beverly Hills don't ya know. I could nearly hear the Charlie Sheen melt-down from the SLS Hotel after he got his ass fired, which by the way is right across from the famed Cedar Sinai Hospital [thankfully I didn't require their services].
Where's Toro: Good question, and one I should answers as it is always a good thing to know where one is going, before hopping into the anyones wine-wagon, let alone one driven by a cork-dork like me. According to the folks over at CataVino; "Toro is an exciting wine region found smack-dab in the heart of Castilla y Leon, in the province of Zamora and sits on the northwest boundary of the presently better known Rueda region". Toro sits on about 9000 acres, on Spain's central plateau, with the vines planted well above 2000 feet on average and perched on a cliff overlooking the Duero River, which becomes the Douro in Portugal just 90 klicks further to the west. See Map
The Grapes: Unlike the situation you have here in the states, where site selection is really the only determining factor in choice of what grapes to grow, in the Toro DO they have rules and allows only three main grapes. As you will see from my top ten list below, the Toro is very bullish on red wines, to which I say Ole! The three main grapes allowed in this region are the Tinto de Toro [which you will see expressed on the label] or commonly known as the Tempranillo [a local natural clone of Tempranilllo]. With the high-heat of summer ever upon the vines there, this grape has developed thicker skins – hence the deep colours and the high tannins in the wines. The second, is Grenacha or grenache as it is known here and the last is Cabernet Sauvigon. You will also find small amounts of Malvasia and Verdejo [which, when done right is winetastic] wonderfully refreshing white wines.
Wine Styles: Here in the Toro, you will find they have broken down their wines into six easy to understand styles. Young, refreshing white wines, Mavalsia or Verdeho and juicy Tinto de Toro and Granacha rosés.The next four are all variations on a theme of 100% Tinta de Toro, they have the young-red of which many don't see oak at all and just the smallest lactic taste, they will remind you of Beaujolais, without the faux candied flavors or aromas. The young oak-aged red, normally 3-4 months in barrel and 6 months in bottle before release. The Red Crianza, which means at least two years of aging and one of those years has to be in the barrel. The last is their "Reserva" which means three years of aging, with at the very least of one year in the barrel and the other two can be in tank or the bottle.
Alright folks, now that you know where Toro is and the types of grape to expect in the wines found there, it is time to get down to the reviews. But, there's one little sticking point, many [but not all] of the wines from the Toro are NOT available stateside, however if you happen to live in the EU, you are golden. They can ship to you any EU destinations no-problemo. So to all my wonderful readers in the EU, please feel free to give these folks a ring and get some of this delicious vino in your glass. Without any further blathering on and on, it's time to get down to the high-light reel, also known as my Toro Top-Ten Report.
1. Bodegas Cyan "La Calera" 2004: Instead of saving the best for the last, making you scroll all the way down to number ten, I'm going just flop out the "big-boy" in the room. This wine dominated the entire lineup. A monster of finesse and a crush of flavors. If they had just one wine to represent their region, this should be the wine they send into the ring, to slay even the most ardent critic.
Tasting Note: Deep garnet opaque core in the glass, it had the one of the oddest noses that I've ever encountered. But the first aroma, no joke coconut [native yeasts], stewed plums, floral and odd minerality. If I told you the nose was "pronounced", you'd say, "sorry that word barely describes the aroma-train coming out of the glass". Upon first splash down, damn plush-city. My first thought was wow, nice black morello cherry flavors [kirsch], mocha, picking up some vanilla tones from the 24 month oak treatment of half French and half American. A very modern style, running far and fast from its roots of restraint, to which I say, bravo. The finish is long and sumptuous, really hard to forget. The price is $29.99 USD and I gave it a score of 94. If I could have taken a case with me, I would have been so happy.
2. 2005 Quinta Quietud: Nothing quiet about this wine from the former owners of Château Cheval Blanc and some of the vines are up to 80 years old. This wine was my second favorite of the day. In the glass it was a huge, inky black, intense and concentrated wine. It spent to years in a combination of 70% French and 30% American and a total of 4 years in the bottle before release. The nose is nothing but Java Express, just blasting out of the glass. In the glass an opaque ruby core. After splash down [like a Jupiter Rocket] loads more of roasted coffee, potent , plush flavors of dark fruits, leather and dried herbs. The finish is just amazing, a gift that never quits giving. This wine sells for $35 USD and I gave it a score of 92 points. You maybe could get this wine from K&L or Wine.com [who will not get link love]. Please do yourself a favor and DECANT 2 hours before enjoying.
3. 2008 Bodegas Covitoro "Arco del Reloj": Boasting of 100 year old vines, this wine was aged for 14 months in a combination of French and American oak. Nosing this wine, really revealed nothing as there was no perceptible aromas present. Howeve in the glass is where this wine came alive, sporting a dark ruby core and nice legs, throwing its color like paint unto a blank canvas. After the first slurp, stewed plums, dark cherries and a sweet tobacco flavor, hanging over the minerality. The fruit is plush and coats the mouth nicely, followed by a long lush finish. This wine did not disappoint, I gave this wine 90 points. This wines need to be decanted, to be fully enjoyed. This wine sells for $7-8 Euros each and doesn't appear to be available stateside.
4. 2004 Bodegas Farina "Gran Dama de Toro": This wine was number eight in the line of wines we tasted during the seminar. This wine is a blend of 94% Tinto de Toro and 6% Granacha. This wine was barrel aged for 15 months in a mix of French and American oak and taken from "ungrafted" vines that have been around longer than I've been alive, 80-90 years old. In the glass a opaque ruby colored core. In the nose, lots of dark cherry, leather and tobacco. After the splash down, a cascade of brilliant flavors, plush berries, cherry, dried herbs, the tannins are a bit grippy. But overall, a wonderful creamy ripeness balancing the rich spice and licorice. I scored this wine a solid 90 points and it sells for $45 USD. They currently don't have an importer, so folks in the EU enjoy this wonderful wine. [Decant] It can be shipped to your door, without any difficulties.
5. 2007 Vina Zangarron Volvoreta "Probus": This wine is made a very fresh palate pleasing style, reminiscent of a young Beaujolais, spending just a five scant months in French oak. A wine from the Toro region with a more sensitive side, that will speak eloquently to folks who perhaps don't like the big-bruisers. This will quietly whisper in your ear, "I feel your pain". In the glass a beautiful purple-ish violet colored core, coating the sides nicely, showing off its legs. Immensely quaff able from the get-go, with little fuss or muss. A very pretty wine, with mostly muted floral aromas and a touch of red licorice. This is where it gets good, after a swish about in the mouth this wine unleashes a torrent of dark-red berry flavors and smooth tannins. Refined elegance, leading to the long mouth coating finish. I was sad to pour this one out. I scored this wine 90 points. It sell for $15-18 Euros. These wines can are imported here in the US, via Antalva Imports in L.A.
6. 2006 Liberalia Enologica "Cuatro": Liberalia is a family owned vineyard located in the prestigious area of the Denominación de Origen Toro, in the province of Zamora, Spain. I tasted this wine a second time after the seminar and it still shone like a bright star in a dark winter sky. This wonderful wine spent just 12 months in French and American Oak. In the glass, a dark opaque core, kirsch, dried herbs and minerality in the nose. This wine was sporting some very nice glass staining legs. A great mouth feel, smooth and plush. A gob of dark and red fruits [plums] and wonderfully integrated tannins made this wine a true joy to drink. The finish was medium to long, dry and just a bit chewy. I scored this wine 90 points and it sells for nearly $6 Euros. A real go-getter, that will not disappoint.
7. 2006 Coral Duero Rompesedas: In the seminar, at first blush I thought it was good, but afterward in the general free-for-all tasting this wine elevated its game a bit in my mind. The prices quoted however were not the QPR champs I had hoped for and seem a bit pricier than the other Toro wines. This wines sell for $50 USD and their importer is Classic Wines. So boys and girls, it does appear you can get this wonderful wine here in the states, um what are you waiting for?
A quick tasting note: This wine was aged in new oak for 18 months. In the glass, a leggy glass coating opaque purple/blue core, just an epic aromatic potpourri blast of, mineral, tar, espresso, violets, and blackberry. It's surprisingly elegant despite its obvious power and a bit of heat, still a wonderfully savory effort that should gracefully evolve for another few years. But it's drinking pretty fabulously right now. I scored this wine 93 points, another go-getter that will not disappoint.
8. 2006 Rompesedas "Finca las Parvas": This wine is reminiscent of a quote from a certain Mr.Ben Franklin the hundred dollar man] many consider a American Renaissance man who had this to say about wine; "The discovery of a wine is of greater moment than the discovery of a constellation. The universe is too full of stars". I too discovered a great wine this day, one that will really impress you [as it did me] and make you want to seriously stock up big time. Although the"benjamin" price point will most likely scare away all, but those of us with a disposable income the size of Charlie Sheens ego.
Grapes and Aging: This is a 100% Tinto de Toro which is sourced from a 5.5 acre"ungrafted" plot of over 100 year old vines and was aged for 22 months in 100% new French oak. Hmm, lots of one hundred numbers being thrown around about this wine.
Tasting Note: In the glass this wine is a giant of ruby opaqueness. Wonderful glass staining color in the legs. Beautiful fresh berry aromas swirling about, inviting sniff after sniff. After the first slurp, big black cherry, plum, currant, dark chocolate and a nice smack of licorice. All perfectly balanced against the smoky, sweet oak, laying on a nice fresh canvas of tannin-acid integration and a wonderful rich earthy note. The finish is long and caressing. It's drinking wonderfully now and will continue to do so long into the future. A wonderful wine that I scored 94 points and is available state-side.
9. Bodegass Estancia Piedra "Vina Azul" 2009: This was the very first wine we tasted that day in the seminar setting. A wine that never seen oak, fermented and aged in stainless steel. In the glass a bright purple/blue colored core and again reminded me of a young Beaujolais. On the nose pronounced youthful aromas of red and dark berries are complicated by notes of candied licorice, and floral note. After the first long slurp, an abundance of raspberry and cherry flavors that give way to darker fruits in the middle palate and show very good clarity. Turns a bit grapey on the finish, leaving behind a floral pastille note. This is delicious now and is made to drink now and drink often. My score 87 points and it sells for $17 USD.
10. 2009 Liberalia Tres: Another youthful but ever so wonderful wine made for early quaffing and approachability. It is an elegant, tender wine that is really enjoyable young, to make the most of its charming aromas and abundant fruit flavors. A beautiful shimmering purple violet colored core, nicely staining glass. Right away an easy pleaser, with it smooth and generous mouth feel. Nice thread of minerality running through it, showing off attractive flavors of ripe cherry, blackberry and fig, followed by a tight, juicy finish. I scored this wine 89 points and it sells for $4 Euros, this wine is a great buy.
Take Aways: There were several take aways, I jotted down during the seminar which I wanted to share with you regarding the DO Toro region. Most of the wines you find here will be in the 14-15% range. Because of the hotter and drier conditions it is really impossible to make a Toro wine with lower ABV. Most of the vines are head pruned, but a small amount are bush trained. The berry sizes are smaller, thus giving far more concentrations of flavors and although they all qualify to be labeled "organic" most folks can't afford the fees to required to obtain the "certification". Most of wines are made with a mix of American and French oak and are taking a stab at stainless steel aging to reign in those huge tannins and a majority of the wineries only use natural yeasts, which contribute to the wildly different flavors and aromas. This region is a sleeping giant, one you need to keep on eye on. Remember the Malbec from Argentina was in this stage at one point, I suspect Toro is next in line to cash in on this momentum. I hope you will give these wines a swirl yourself, until next time sip long and prosper, cheers!
One Euro = 1.3902 U.S. dollars