Toro: Where Bullish Wines Rule

This once-ignored region has emerged as one of Spain’s top spots for powerful Tempranillo-based wines.
Photo by Mark Lund

Size matters in Toro. One would be hard-pressed to name another region in Spain that produces wines as dense, potent and hedonistic as those from this region along the Duero River in western Castilla y León. That’s not to say Toro, which has been on the rise over the last 20 years, isn’t putting out wines with elegance, style and class.

The region gets its name from a local town, and wines rely largely on the Tinta de Toro clone of Tempranillo. Metaphorically, the reference sits right with the larger-than-life wines: toro means “bull” in Spanish.

It’s easy to understand why these wines pack the punch they do. A preponderance of unirrigated bush vines planted up to 125 years ago bask in searing dry heat during a fairly short growing season before yielding small bunches of power-packed grapes. The resulting wines, the best of which age at least 18 months in mostly new French oak, are inky, plush and rich. They have high ­alcohol levels (almost always above 15% abv) and are tannic in structure. In good vintages, they are capable of aging for up to 20 years.

Modern Toro wines exhibit elegance and brawn.

Has this always been the case? Absolutely not. While grapes have flourished in the region for centuries, the lands were never considered prime wine country. When the Toro Denominación de Origen (DO) was approved in 1987, fewer than seven wineries operated in the region. Today, more than 50 wineries do business in this part of ­Zamora Province.

Situated 40 miles east of Portugal, Toro is extreme wine country, with rocky vineyards housing stumpy vines that produce barely two pounds of fruit per plant. While summers are hot and parched, winters in Toro are bone-chilling and tough. Snowmelt gives the vines all the water they will get.

Wineries and vineyards are found on both sides of the Duero River, at elevations ranging from 2,000 to 2,400 feet, but most of Toro’s better wineries operate on the warmer southern bank.

One of the leaders in the region’s revitalization, the Eguren family, from Rioja, started one of Toro’s most acclaimed wineries, Numanthia-­Termes, in the late 1990s. A decade later, the Egurens sold Numanthia-Termes to the LVMH group and used the proceeds to start Teso La Monja. Today, Teso La Monja and Numanthia-Termes are neighbors, and each delivers winning wines year after year.

Another relative newcomer that helped bolster the region’s fortunes, Pintia is owned by Vega Sicilia in nearby Ribera del Duero; it bottled its first Toro wine in 2001. More burly, dark and lusty than anything Vega produces in cooler Ribera del Duero, Pintia qualifies as a wine of elegance, something many modern Toro wines can claim along with inherent brawn.

The Duero’s Lost Wine Region

Cigales ranks as the least-known Duero River Valley wine region. It operates in the shadows of Ribera del Duero and Toro, but produces wines with a similar DNA to those of its more prominent neighbors.

Established in 1991, the Cigales DO is situated in Valladolid Province along the Pisuerga River, a Duero tributary. The region is home to Tempranillo and other approved grapes grown almost exclusively in rocky vineyards at elevations up to 2,500 feet.

Domestically, Cigales has long been a major source for ­fuller-bodied rosé wines that are often reddish, bright pink or even orange in tint. But it’s the region’s full-bodied, old-vine Tempranillos from the likes of Bodegas César Príncipe, ­Finca ­Museum, Bodegas Traslanzas and Val de Los Frailes that fans of ­Ribera del Duero and Toro wines should try.

Teso La Monja 2012 Victorino; $65, 95 points. Like its big brother Alabaster, this is a superb Tinta de Toro that’s powerfully built but also stylish. Aromas of cassis and blackberry are dark, malty and chocolaty. Flavors of burnt toast, dark chocolate, black peppercorn and blackberry end with a tannic yet balanced swirl of licorice and minerally complexity. Drink from 2017–2030. Fine Estates From Spain. Editors’ Choice.

Elias Mora 2012 Gran; $90, 95 points. Tightly wound, layered, moderately tannic and oozing excellence, this is a fantastic high-end Toro from the superb 2012 vintage. The minerally, toasty aroma of blackberry is stylish and shows a balsamic note. Flavors of licorice, sweet balsamic vinegar, chocolate and toasty blackberry continue on a long, deep, complex finish. Drink this ace-level red from 2017–2028. Grapes of Spain. Editors’ Choice.

Liberalia 2011 Cinco; $70, $94 points. This is the best wine from Liberalia to date. Jammy blackberry, wild raspberry and licorice aromas are controlled but potent. Flush, dense and wide on the palate, this features manageable tannins along with pure blackberry and cassis flavors touched up by toasty oak. Espresso and burnt toast notes take over on the finish. Drink through 2030. Well-Oiled Wine Company. Editors’ Choice.

Pintia 2010 Pintia; $68, 93 points. Gritty, charred aromas rest on top of core blackberry and cassis scents. This is a blocky, stout number with firm tannins and serious structure. Charred blackberry and dark chocolate are the lead flavors, while this big-boned Toro tastes of toast and mocha on the finish, which is drying and tannic. Drink through 2027. Europvin USA. Cellar Selection.

Numanthia 2010 Numanthia; $60, 93 points. Rooty blackberry, cassis, vanilla and cola aromas are vintage Numanthia. So is a saturated, tannic palate that’s deep and dense. Baked blackberry is the lead flavor, and that’s matched by espresso and chocolate. Heat and ruggedness need to be resolved on a rich, powerful, chocolaty tasting finish. Drink through 2020. Moët Hennessy USA. Cellar Selection.

Published on May 25, 2016
Topics: Spain, Tempranillo, Toro
About the Author
Michael Schachner
Spanish and South American Editor

Reviews wines from Argentina, Chile and Spain.

Michael Schachner is a New York-based journalist specializing in wine, food and travel. His articles appear regularly in Wine Enthusiast, where he is a longstanding contributing editor responsible for South America and Spain. Schachner reviews more than 2,000 wines annually for WE and regularly travels to Chile, Argentina and Spain to keep abreast of the constantly changing global wine map. Email: mschachner@wineenthusiast.net.



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