As you all know Spanish wine is becoming a big deal around the world. This is in part to it’s incredibly wide ranging regions, each with it’s own personality, and strengths. Here’s a short story about trip I recently took to Toro, one of the most exciting new, or should I say old, places that is producing exciting wines. Enjoy the story:
It was bright and early on a Friday morning when I piled into the car with my friends Juan and Jaime. Jaime is the export manager for the large Rioja winery. Generously, she offered me a ride to their property in Toro, called Torreduero, to both meet with their winemaker, Felipe, and to taste his wines. Driving north over the already snow covered Sierra de Guadarrama Mountains; we descended into Spain’s autonomous region of Castilla y Leon. For those that don’t know this region, it is not only steeped in history but is also located in one of the harshest climates in Spain. Scorching hot summers and freezing cold winters combined with poor low nutrient soil makes you wonder how grapes can possibly grow so successfully. The DOs of Bierzo, Cigales, Ribero del Duero, Rueda, and Toro all create a range of wines stretching from the bone dry whites of Rueda to the inky black wines of Ribera del Duero.
It’s about a two an a half hour drive North of Madrid before you reach the small historic town of Toro, which overlooks the famous Duero River. Toro is a picturesque town with the requisite castle and history to support it. Wine has been made here since the 1st century BC, when the Greeks observed wine-making techniques by local Celtiberian tribes. Later, in early medieval times, commercial vineyards from the River Duero began.
Later, Alfonso generously offered lands to religious institutions, such as the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, to cultivate vines. From the resulting wine wealth, many of the forty medieval churches and convents in the old town of Toro today were constructed. Many of which contained deeply excavated underground bodegas in order to reserve the high quality wines from the unforgiving climate. Another interesting fact is that on the original ledgers from Colombus’ voyage note that wines from Toro were stocked for the long journey!
So why haven’t we heard about this region with such a rich history? According to Viño Bajoz website: “Traditionally, the harvest began mid October. This meant that the wines often reached 16 or 17% alcohol and in turn were not very commercial. With little economic need to change and with little experience, the local farmers found it hard to understand why their most appreciated wines weren’t selling. The harvest was then brought forward to mid September. More modern, lesser alcoholic wines were produced and this is when the first Toro boom began. The new found quality and style finally led the region to be award D.O status in 1987”.
We arrived at 10:30, pulling up to a large building with Torreduero blazed across the side. It is located on the road to Zamora, where most of the Bodegas are situated. Stepping out of our car, the bitter wind whipped against our cheeks forcing us quickly inside where towering stainless steel fermentation tanks towered ahead and the heavy scent of grapes hung thickly in the air. Everywhere we looked, state of the art technology was being put through a workout as it struggled to process this year’s harvest.
To understand how such a young winery can afford such an immense setup, you first need to know something about its background.
Torreduero is owned by Bodegas Riojanas. It is the result of a long search into where this old Rioja property could find a new wine to produce for their portfolio. What amounted to a long extensive search, the final choices came down to a property in Argentina and one in Toro. The proximity of Toro lured Riojanas to invest, and in 1999, the winery opened. Obviously one cannot have a winery without a winemaker; hence, Riojanas began their search, finding the perfect person right under their nose. Felipe Nalda, the son of their winemaker in LaRioja, became the next winemaker of Toro. Not only had he studied some oenology, but also Riojanas felt that keeping wine making “in the family” would yield positive results. Felipe knew the company from the inside out having grown up with a father who had made wine for Riojanas since 1964.
It was in 1999 that Felipe walked into this new winery with a mission to produce wines of the highest quality. As if this goal wasn’t enough, he also took on the responsibility of creating a whole new line of wines in a very competitive market. For the first 5 years, he has taken and sourced grapes from old vines, meanwhile, selecting areas to plant new vines for future wines. They have a total of 70 Hectors of new vines that produce 25 % of their current wine production. Eventually, this percentage will rise to around 50% when the vines are fully mature and producing better grapes.
Walking around the Bodega, things were just beginning to wind down from the 2005 Harvest. In one room, they were cleaning barrels to be filled with this year’s wines; while everywhere else, they were busy monitoring the final stages of fermentation. The total square meter of the building is 3600 meters square with plans to add on a retail shop and more offices. After a quick tour of the bottling line, fermentation rooms and barrel room, we headed up into the main blending room/office to taste the wines.
I will reserve my tasting notes until after the article, but needless to say, Torreduero is onto something. The wines all were inky black in color, exemplifying the intense color this variety of Tempranillo has. In Toro, Tempranillo is called Tinto de Toro. It’s here that a clonal variation of Tempranillo has developed a thicker darker skin; many say this is because of the harsh climate forcing the grapes to protect themselves. To illustrate this point, the rosé made here is only macerated for four hours on its skins, resulting in a wine similar to a light pinot noir. When you see the wines, you can tell the difference immediately. Instead of the lighter cherry red color of the wines made from Tempranillo in Rioja, here the wines take on an inky darkness with a depth of color that seems to suck in the light that surrounds it. Combine this with the extra tannins contained in the skin and you have a wine that is dense and powerful. I asked Felipe what he thought were the trademark flavors and aromas exhibited by Tempranillo from Toro. He replied, “anise and rich blackberry”. Without a doubt, many of these wines seemed spicy rich with layers of dark berries sedimented like the layers of history that they come from.
Tasting with the winemaker is always a treat, and this was no exception. Not only did I get to try the wines that make up Torredueros portfolio, but I also had the chance to sample some of Felipe’s experiments. Curious as to see how far he could push the boundaries, Torreduero had for the past few vintages played with a white wine in their Peñamonte line. This wine continues to go through transformations as it attempts to find the balance between the local grape varieties – Malvasia (Muscatel) and Verdejo. Currently, Felipe had a small sample of their Peñamonte white in oak casks destined to be a small percentage of the final blend of the 2005 production. His goal with the oak was to give the wine a slightly creamy feel. What surprised me was how well it worked. Usually, delicate whites in oak become clouded by wood and lose their finesse. Yet, this time a small sample from barrel yielded a wine that retained its delicate nature, while gaining a subtle softness that offered a light creamy feel to the palate. When blended back into the non-oaked wine, I expect that this touch of oak will render a wine with a subtle complexity and a touch more complexity than its previous non-oaked versions.
All this time, Felipe remained somewhat serious with a critical eye for what we tasted. You could tell that these wines were only the first step in where he hoped to take them. Knowing that he has the backing and the resources, I got the feeling that the future was bright for this young passionate winemaker. Wine was not something to joke about, but rather something to be enjoyed. We spat our samples into buckets in hopes of remaining clear-headed, which is no easy task with such tasty treats. Eventually, we brought the tasting to a close, so that we could head into town to try some of the wine with local cuisine. Like I said before, Toro is picturesque with buildings and streets crammed together like a rabbit’s warren and the ride to the center was a fun chance to view centuries of history etched in the stone.
Our first stop was a small café off the main square where we had a glass of the Joven version of the Peñamonte line of wines. Paired with small green olives and consumed in an environment of locals discussing the latest news, the wine took on a perspective that you can’t get in a formal tasting. The wall behind the bar was covered in bottles of Toro wines representing all the great bodegas that belong to this special region. Pride in the wine was evident in the faces of the people because Toro cannot grow much else other than vines as a result of the sandy soil. Interestingly, near the end of the 19th century, large quantities of Toro wines were sent to France by rail during the phylloxera crisis. Other Castilian vineyards damaged by phylloxera were restocked from this region, which remained protected from the disease by the soil. Obviously, being one of the few regions in Europe capable of surviving Phylloxera infuses the people of Toro with pride and reverence for their wines.
As Spaniards are apt to do, we downed our glasses and headed across the street for another tasty wine with some of the locals. We savored Callos (tripe), Moro (pig snout), chulletas de codero (lamb chops sliced thin and grilled quickly) and a salad for health’s sake, all while drinking a bottle of the Peñamonte Crianza. The richness I referred to earlier was perfect combination with such a fare. Rich sauces and intense meats were cut by the strong tannin/acid balance of these wines, while the light spiciness accented the rich fat that imbued each dish. Oh, and did I mention it filled me up? Stuffed to the gills with wine and food, we sat and chatted over coffee and Orujo (a neon colored liquor made from distilled wine and herbs). Felipe, only now with proper nourishment, began to show the charm that comes with someone so passionate with what they do. We chatted about everything and nothing. Asking where else he would look in Spain for new “up and coming” regions. He mentioned Somontano, an area just Southeast of Rioja, an area with great potential to create interesting wines in the near future. The food, wine and conversation became second to that of the experience. In a town where the history is felt in your bones like the wind that whips through the town, it’s hard not to fall in love with this unique place.
Fortunately these wines can be found in the States, though in limited quantities. Check out the contact numbers at the bottom so you can find them in your area. Enjoy the notes!
Till soon, Ryan
Contact the people below to find out where you can find the wines of Bodegas Torreduero in your area:
In the UK –
Imported by Meridian Wines
Contact – Tony Brown email@example.com
In the USA –
NY, NJ, MD, VA – Imported by Vintage Wines
Contact – Anthony Benitez firstname.lastname@example.org
FL, ILL, TX, CA – Imported by Dana Wines & Spirits
Contact – Lazaro Carbajal email@example.com
For any other markets please contact
Jaime Dutton at the winery – firstname.lastname@example.org
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