Bullish on Toro Wines

Why this ancient Spanish wine region should be on your radar.

Duero River in Toro

Toro is one foreign wine whose name you won’t have any trouble remembering or pronouncing.

It is a wine region – not a brand – in the northwest of Spain and is the last major wine appellation along the Duero River before it rushes through the mountains into Portugal where it becomes the Douro.

The name “Toro” should let you know the kind of wine it produces — almost all big, burly, yet sophisticated red table wines — although Toro does make some whites and rosés. By and large, the reds are characterized as having big but mellow fruit, moderate oak accents and lots of dusty tannins.

“Because of the soil, the climate, and lots of old vines, the wines are very structured and well-rounded,” says sommelier and wine consultant Fred Dexheimer, who recently conducted a seminar and tasting in New York of 14 of the region’s wineries, about one-quarter the total of Toro producers.

Toro is an ancient wine-producing area which in modern times faded off the map. Now, it is following the path of its upriver neighbor, Ribera del Duero, in gaining wine popularity. Like the Ribera, Toro’s main grape variety is a clone of Tempranillo, as are the vineyards of Spain’s most-famous table wine appellation, Rioja. Ribera had one outlier winery, Vega Sicilia, that achieved success before the region grew to be a popular producer. Vega Sicilia, in turn, helped popularize Toro by producing a wine called “Pintia” with Toro grapes.

Toro’s old, spiral, head-pruned vines — which in winter look like a horror film invasion of two-foot high spiders crawling across the cold, high-plains landscape — gained the attention of growers and winemakers across Spain in the 1990's, instituting a wine rush to plant new vineyards and rediscover old ones, some over 100 years ancient. Publicity about Toro then spread across American wine consciousness like the first wave of an incoming tide. Now Toro is back with a second wave of wines and hopes to fully grab our attention.

“In 1998, there were only eight wineries in Toro,” says José Amancio Moyano Muñoz,” head of the Toro consortium. “Today, there are 50.” Not all sell their wines in the United States, as most who poured wines at the seminar seek representation.

The most famous winery of the region, Numanthia, which I visited a few years ago, produces iconic wines that are collectors’ items. Founded by a family of Rioja producers in 1998, it is owned today by the luxury brand group LVMH.

The Toro soil is mostly sand and rock over clay, which retains moisture during dry times, as there is no irrigation, plus the older vines have deep roots. The hot days and cool nights before harvesting give good final ripening, and the thick skin of the small Tinta de Toro grapes helps resist disease while providing structure. Most of the wines have a couple of years or more in the barrel and bottle before coming to market ready to drink but are capable of long aging.

Although a wine with a name like Toro is a natural to pair with a juicy steak, the people of Toro also drink them with traditional dishes such as arroz a la Zamorana (spicy rise and pork), bacalao a la Trance (codfish and potatoes) and oxtail braised in red Toro wine – all good reasons to be bullish on Toro.