Musings (more like rambling thoughts) of a Cardiff based lawyer obsessed with food and wine
As readers of the blog and my Twitter and Instagram feeds will know I cannot get enough of Spanish wines and will always jump at the chance to taste them. As such a post on my twitter feed by the Cardiff based Mystere Wine Club, publicising a tasting of wine from the Toro DO in Spain, more than peaked my interest.
Diary availability checked, I sorted my place based on some of the finest wines that Toro has to offer being in the tasting.
The Toro DO
Located in the North East of Spain, in the province of Zamora (not far from the Portuguese border- bit of a rhyming couplet there), Toro have been producing wine since around the 1st Century BC. Whilst there is a long history of wine making in the area, Toro was only granted DO status in 1987 and it still sits somewhat in the shadow of the giants of red wine in Spain in the form of Ribera del Duero (granted DO status only 5 years before, but having taken a far more meteoric rise to the top), Rioja and Priorat.
The wines use to be regarded as (in the words of the great Hugh Johnson) “rustic and overly alcoholic”. Rustic, in my book, is wine code for rough as old boots and over alcoholic means you will wake up the next day feeling like a rusty nail is being hammered into your skull.
Toro’s stock has, however, been rising steadily (the absurdly influential – not in a good way in my opinion – Mr. Parker is a big fan) with wines ranging from the affordable supermarket gluggers to uber expensive (thank you for that Mr. Parker!!) boutique wines. Quality is definitely there, particularly at the higher levels, with renowned wine makers like the Eguren family (Teso la Monja) and Telmo Rodríguez (Pago la Jara) having established wineries in the area, as has the esteemed Vega Sicilia (with Pintia).
The grape used in Toro reds (there are some whites and rosés, but red totally dominates) is Tinta de Toro (a tough skinned variety of, that mainstay of Spanish red wine, Tempranillo).
Tinto de Toro vines proved to be resistant to the phylloxora plague, which laid waste to European vineyards in the 19th century, and a result of this is there are a number of pre- phylloxera, ungrafted, vineyards in Toro (a rarity in Europe).
Unlike Rioja and Ribera del Duero (where most wines are blends, albeit predominantly tempranillo based ones), Toro wines are generally (particularly at the top end) not blends and use 100% Tinta de Toro.
In terms of climate, you are talking extremes. Bloody cold in the winter and bloody hot in the summer. Wines (due to the summer heat) tend to be big hitters on the alcohol front (riper grapes have more sugar in them, which turns to alcohol on fermentation). A whopping 14.5° – 15° is the norm in Toro wines.
At the top end Toro wines can go for serious money, with (by way of example) the 2012 of the top wine at the Teso La Monja winery currently an eye watering €950 a bottle!!! This is a bit of a freak price, but I do have a bottle (bought direct from the winery) of their next rung down wine in the form of Alabaster – which goes for north of £100 (I thankfully didn’t pay that much).
Whilst some prices are a little high, for the most part there is great value to be had from Toro wines, which tend to be reliable crowd pleasers at the lower end and good value (bar from right at the top, where prices are frankly ridiculous) big hitter at the higher end.
So to the wines the Mystere Wine Club had put on for the tasting.
Sierra Cantabria Teso la Monja
The Eguren family are one of my favourite Rioja producers with stellar offerings, like La Nieta from their Vinados de Paganos winery (which I had the pleasure of visiting a few years back) near Laguardia.
They also have a renowned winery in Toro in the form of Teso la Monja (the same one as referred to about in terms of the seriously expensive bottle). Founded in 2007, this is the Eguren family’s (Miguel Eguren is the wine maker) second foray into Toro (the first being the acclaim Numantia Termes winery – more on that later – which they sold to the LVMG – Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy Group). The bodega’s vines are up to 130 years (averaging at 50 years) and yields are very low at between 1,000kg and 2,000kg a hectare (an average 6,000kg – 8,000kg is the norm in the wider wine world).
Generally grapes used for this wine are sourced from younger vines (10- 35 years old), with this being one of Teso la Monja’s entry level wines. It is aged in French oak for 12 months plus
On the nose this was surprisingly floral with hints of rose as well as raspberry. Lighter and more delicate than I expected.
On the palate there were still some fairly robust tannins with sweet dark fruits and a slight smokiness. Still feels young and one to keep I think. Drinking well now but it will I think mature into a gorgeous wine. A lovely start to proceeding
For the price this is a fantastic wine, with great complexity and years left in it. I think it will get better and better.
Price : Around the £20 mark
This wine scored a whopping 96 points in the Penin Guide (my go to reference material for Spanish wines), which in Señor Penin’s book (excuse the pun) makes it a truly exceptional wine.
In theory it is a considerable step up in class from the Almirez, but to me it was much more closed.
The nose hinted at a greater richness than the Almirez, with notes of cedar and coffee.
On the palate there were toasted notes and darker fruit (blackberry and cassis), but the tannins were harsher than the Almirez and it felt all a bit austure to me. One to cellar, I think, and check in 5 years time.
Price: Around the £35-£40 mark.
Founded in 1991, Bodegas Maurodos (San Román) has about 100 hectare under vine between San Román de Hormona and Villaester. The wines are aged in French and American oak barrels (which are fairly new – being replaced every 2 years max).
San Román 2010
On the nose there were some lovely ripe black fruit aromas and a touch of what I though was marzipan. No shrinking violet this wine.
On the palate those big ripe black fruits were to the fore, with a nice back note of liquorice. The extra 3 years of ageing have smooth out the tannins in this wine, which was nicely silky in the mouth.
I took the left overs of this wine home (perk of the club) and drank it over 2 nights. It evolved on both the nose and palate nicely with the liquorice coming more to the fore, as well as cassis and mocha. Really nice wine this and good value for money. Would definitely buy this again if saw it.
Price : Around the £33 mark
Bodegas Heredad de Urueña
Located just outside the walked town of Urueña, Bodegas Heredad de Urueña started operations back in 2005 and has 25 hectares under vine. Mainly Tinta de Toro is grown, but they also produce some Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah based wines. Their top wine, Moisés de Gran Vino, is all Tinta De Toro.
Moisés de Gran Vino 2010
Lots of sweet ripe fruit on the nose, with a touch of coffee and cedar. On the palate those fruits were a little muted, with the merest hint of liquorice. The flavours didn’t linger long in the mouth and this wine fell short on length for me. Drink up if you have it I would say.
Price: around the £20 mark
The bodega has 53 hectares under vine, which are on average over 80 years old
Cyan Prestigo 2005
This wine is aged for 18 months in French oak.
On the nose it felt hot and a bit stewed and this followed through on palate with a distinct stewed flavour to the fruit on display. All a bit too pruney and hot for my taste.
This was the only wine of the night where I felt the alcohol level (15°) really dominated. Showing its age and one to definately drink up now.
Nice enough if drunk in isolation, it suffered a bit in comparison to the competition on the night. Whilst the cheapest wine of those on offer, it was my least favourite wine of the night (even when taking into account price).
Price: Around the £18 – £20.
Bodegas Numanthia Termes Toro
Founded by the Eguren Family in 1998, who sold it to the LVMG Group in 2007, Bodega Numanthia Termes Toro is located in Vildefinjas. It shot to fame in 2004 when Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate gave its flagship wine, Termanthia, a perfect score of 100 (that wine now goes for upwards of £580 a bottle in the UK, such is the power of Parker).
The name comes from the legend surrounding the ancient city of Numanthia, whose residents chose death rather than the dishonour of surrendering to the Romans.
It has 83 hectares under vine, but these are split between more than a hundred tiny individual plots, with the average age of the vines being between 50 and 100 years old (depending on the plot). Yields from these vines are low at a mere 1,800 kg per hectare (compared to the average of between 6,000kg and 8,000kg).
Absolute belter of a wine this. Tonnes of rich dark fruits on the nose, with an intriguing charcoal smokiness.
On the palate it had bags and bags of rich sweet black fruit and cassis, with a touch of vanilla oakiness and spice Really silky in the mouth, with fantastic length to this wine. The flavours lingering on the palate for an age.
Top wine, which is drinking pretty much à point now to my mind.
Price : Around the £45 mark.
As with its younger brother, this is a lovely wine.
On the nose the ripe fruits of the 2007 have evolved into leather and meaty notes. On the palate it has less fruit and an almost earthy quality to it. This wine didn’t, in my opinion, deal with its high alcohol content quite as well as the 2007 nor did it have the length on the palate of the 2007.
Price : Around the £45 mark.
Bodegas Pintia (Vega-Sicilia)
Bodega Pintia was bought by the world renowned Vega Sicilia in 1996. They have 100 hectares under vine with vines of up 50 years old. The wine (they make just one here) is aged for 1 years in barrels (70% American and 30% French) and then held in the winery in bottle for a further 2 years.
Another corker of wine (I would expect nothing less from the people behind Vega Sicilia).
On the nose it was quite meaty, with earthy tones and a distinct aroma of coffee grounds.
On the palate there were some nice blue and black fruits (I found it quite plummy) and a pleasing gaminess. For me it fell just short of the Numanthia 2007 on the basis that the flavours dropped off just a bit sooner in the month. A beautiful wine, but just a little lacking on length as against the Numanthia 2007.
Price : Around the £45 – £50 mark
I think it is fair to say that the myth of Toro wines being rustic headbangers was firmly put to bed. Whilst all the wines were big hitters on the alcohol front (either 14.5° or a mighty 15°) most did not overtly show it and there was a real level of consistency in terms of the quality of the wines on display.
It is fair to say the night converted a few doubters as to Toro’s pedigree. A DO on the rise and one to watch with interest.
On a show of hands, with points for wines on a first, second or third place basis, the winner by a country mile was the Pintia 2003 (also the most expensive wine of the night).
The full podium (based on said show of hands) was:
My personal podium was different, being:
I thought the Numanthia 2007 just shaded the Pintia (lovely as it was). The flavours lingered on the palate just that bit longer for me (those of the Pintia just fell away a bit more sharpish) and it was drinking absolutely à point at the tasting in my view.
When you add price to the equation, I thought the best bang for your buck wine was the Almirez 2013 (hence it’s podium finish for me).
Cracking value at under £20, this is a whole lot of wine for your money. If you see it my advice is buy it as I reckon it is going to really blossom in the coming years.
In terms of food pairings, I would say a rather apt one would be an oxtail stew (rabo de toro in Spanish). The rich flavours of an oxtail stew would work a treat with these wines. Also, with natural affinity of tempranillo with lamb, these wines would also work well with a roasted shoulder of lamb and, particularly, the more robust flavour of roasted mutton.
Perfect winter warmers these wines, so an apt tipple for the present somewhat Baltic conditions.
Thank you to the Mystere Wine Club for a very interesting and enlightening evening. Looking forward to the next one I can attend.