Tuesday, March 29, 2011

TORO: LAND OF STRENGTH, WINES OF SUBSTANCE


Tinta de Toro

Spanish wines have always held a particular fascination for me.  One of the first tasting events I attended was one showcasing Spanish wines.  Since then, I have been drawn to the wines of Spain over and over again.

Recently I was invited to a presentation of wines from the Toro region - "Toro: Land Of Strength, Wines Of Substance" - held at the José Andrés restaurant The Bazaar at the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles.  The group was on a three-city tour, with Southern California as the last stop.

A tasting seminar led by Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer (pictured below) proved to be informative on a region that is overshadowed by more well-known Spanish wine regions.

Toro is in the northwest part Spain, in the Castilla y Leon region.  Records show wine production there since the second century.  A climate featuring warm days and cool nights facilitates the ripening of the grapes, which tend to have thick skins and small berries, helping to structure and color the wines.  Sandy soil protects the grapes from vine-killing phylloxera.

The SettingThe 1200 growers in Toro produce wines which have a much darker fruit expression in than those found in in Rioja.  Most of the wines tasted at this seminar were between 14% and 15.5% in alcohol content.  Toro has whites made from Verdejo and Malvasia.  Garnacha is also employed here, but the reds are all about Tinta de Toro, and this tasting was all about the reds.

About 30 tables were set up for the seminar, with 14 wines poured at each place.  The room smelled intensely of Toro wine - a dusty, black fruit aroma.  Dexheimer noted that the winemakers represented picked the wines they wanted to show, so there was only the cream of the crop on the table.

Comments from José Amancio Moyano Muoz, President of theCRDO Toro, opened the event.  He spoke earnestly of the Toro region and the wines which are a huge part of the life there.

Fred Dexheimer, MSThe Wines:

All the wines sampled were made from 100% Tinta de Toro grapes - the Toro name for Tempranillo - except for #8, which had a smattering of Garnacha included.

1. Bodegas Estancia Piedra "Vina Azul" 2009 - The only unoaked wine of the bunch.  Inky black at the core with bright purple edges.  Intense nose of dark fruit and a floral aspect.  On the palate, intense dark, huge fruit expression of blackberry and raspberry, with muscular tannins.

2. Coral Duero Rompesedas 2006 - Even darker than the first wine, with less purple at the edges.  Oak is 60% French, 20% Hungarian, 20% American.  The oak comes through strong, showing its 18 months in the barrel.  A dark violet nose with spices, big tannins and strong acidity - a calling card of Toro wines.

3. Valduero "Arbucala" 2006 - A light nose with coffee notes, this wine received only 6 months in 100% American oak.  From 60-100 year-old vines, there is a savory taste with herb notes, minerals and earth.  Very dry.  With a $60 suggested price tag, this was by far the most expensive wine on the table.

4. Bodegas Francisco Casas "Vina Abba" 2007 - Only 13.5% abv in this one, aged 14 months in French and American oak.  Fruity floral nose had some in attendance thinking of walnuts and herbal components.  Tart taste and strong tannins.

5. Bodegas Covitoro "Arco del Reloj 2008 - From vineyards planted between 1880 and1910.
 14 months in French and American oak, aged 12 months in the bottle.  On the nose: a sweet facet of toasty vanilla and tobacco.  Very ripe fruit on the palate with hints of earth and some black cherry notes.

6. Quinta Quietude 2005 - 15% abv.  Extremely dark with very little purple at the edge.  A big, funky nose!  A huge herbal play, some coffee, baseball glove.  It tastes savory with black fruit, bell pepper, spices.  Great tannic structure.

7. Liberalia Enologica "Cuatro" 2006 - 15% abv.  Redder than the wines so far, it shows a red fruit nose, dried fruit taste.  Very smooth.  12 months in French and American oak.

8. Bodegas Farina "Gran Dama de Toro" 2004 - 6% Garnacha with the Tinta de Toro.  15 months in 70% American, 30% French oak.  80-90 yr old vines.  The nose is huge with dried plums, anise, licorice, clove.  Plums and cherries on the very interesting palate.  Very smooth tannins.

9. Vina Zangarron "Volvoreta Probus" 2009 - Organic and biodynamic, from a young female winemaker.  French oak for only 5 months.  It has a showy, pretty violet/blackberry/raspberry nose with a little spice.  Elegant rather than rustic.  Dexheimer called this the "sensitive side of Tinta de Toro."

10. Bodega Carmen Rodriguez Mendez "Carodorum Crianza Seleccion Especial" 2007 - Garnet with a purple brick edge, a floral nose with spices - black and red pepper, cinnamon.  Peppery raspberry and blueberry on palate.  24 months in new French oak.

11. Canada del Pino "Finca Yerro Crianza Viejas Vinas" 2006 - 15 months in French oak, 50+ yr old vines.  This shows the lightest color of the day, garnet brick.  A touch of red fruit on the dark, plummy nose.

12. Bodega Cyan "Calera" 2004 - Coffee and mocha with slight touch of raisins on the nose, making me think of a dessert wine.  Nice structure, good tannins, dry, nice grip.

13. Bodegas Rejadorada "Sango" 2006 - Very dark, inky color.  Dark oily nose, a very distinctive iodine aroma.  Very tannic, dry, big dark fruit with black pepper and a menthol, minty herbal angle.  That's something the old vines of Toro tend to produce, according to Dexheimer.

14. Bodega del Palacio de los Frontaura y Victoria Reserva 2005 - Elegant and complex nose and a taste of refreshing minerality.  A nice oak profile, big fruit, silky tannins.  Very soft, especially when compared to the other wines.