Toro - where climate and soil contrive to make life hard for vineyard and vigneron alike
There is a part of northern Spain where a combination of factors combine to create wines of assertive personality; concentrated liquids of balance, freshness and the sort of firmly muscled flanks seen on winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
That place is Ribera del Duero. Here vines are grown at altitude in sparsely-planted vineyards of ancient bush vines. Attempt to increase planting density here and the vines will fail to thrive in this harsh environment where both water and nutrients are at a premium.
What is in plentiful supply, however, is the complex mineral content of the soils of the region. And it is here that some of the finest wines of Spain are being produced.
Further down the Duero valley to the west lies the wine-producing region of Toro, the vineyards of which have been attracting investment from a number of very serious players of late. The likes of Vega Sicilia, Michel Rolland, Jacques Lurton and Telmo Rodríguez are all now active in Toro, along with Mariano Garcia, erstwhile wine maker of thirty vintages at Vega Sicilia.
In both these regions – Ribera del Duero and Toro – the Tempranillo grape finds ubiquity, known as Tinto Fino in the former and Tinta de Toro in…well…Toro.
And in both regions altitude generates conditions conducive to the production of fine wine (i.e. significant day/night temperature variance that promotes freshness and fragrance in the wines), as well as extreme danger from late frosts. This is frontier wine cultivation in a harsh and unforgiving environment.
North-west of Toro, abutting the semi-autonomous region of Galicia, one finds Bierzo, until recently an overlooked backwater making jug wines for local consumption. Yet, as in Toro, a band of dedicated and quality-obsessed individuals, seeing the quality of the local grape varieties (in this instance, Mencia, with Prieto Picudo on backing vocals) and the Bierzo soils, have resurrected it as a source of some very fine wine indeed. See below for one of the new heroes of the region.
2016 San Román, Toro, Bodega Maurodos
£156 in bond per 6 Drink 2022-2029
“Brilliant violet. Expansive, oak-spiced black raspberry and blueberry aromas pick up cola, woodsmoke and vanilla accents with air. Supple, weighty and seamless on the palate, showing impressive focus and spicy lift to the deeply concentrated red and dark fruit preserve, cherry cola, mocha and spicecake flavors. Stains the palate without showing any excess fat. Finishes sweet, creamy and extremely long, with polished tannins, a repeating blue fruit note and a touch of dark chocolate.” Josh Raynolds
2017 Garmon, Ribera del Duero, Garmon Continental
£192 in bond per 6 Drink 2023-2031
“Opaque ruby. Mineral- and spice-accented aromas of ripe red and dark berries, lavender and exotic spices on the deeply perfumed nose. Weighty and broad on the palate, offering juicy blackberry and bitter cherry flavors that show fine clarity and building sweetness. Turns spicier on the persistent finish, which features slowly mounting tannins and lingering mineral and floral notes.” Josh Raynolds
2018 Viña Magna Crianza, Dominio Basconcillos
£192 in bond a dozen Drink 2021-2025
A new one to me, this. Coming from what are among the loftiest (and therefore coolest) vineyards in this lofty region, this crianza is made up from 90% Tempranillo and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon (i.e. a not dis-similar blend to Vega Sicilia Unico). The reason I’ve selected it is that Tim Atkin MW was exceptionally complimentary about the (far trickier) 2017 vintage, calling it “…a superbly balanced Ribera that spends 14 months in new wood, but has the structure to cope.” And going on to observe, “Polished and refined, with mint, cassis and chocolate flavours and racy, palate-cleansing acidity.”
The 2018 vintage is said to be better yet and I really want to get my hands on some.
2018 Aires de Vendimia Mencía de Valtuille, José Antonio García
£138 in bond per 6 Drink 2020-2025
“Made by José Antonio García, one of the rising stars of Bierzo, this superb old-vine blend of Mencía with 4% of other co-planted red and white varieties has lovely stemmy complexity from 100% whole bunches, graceful tannins, sweet wild strawberry fruit and levels of complexity that wouldn't look out of place in a Premier Cru Burgundy. 96 points.” Tim Atkin MW
2018 Aires de Vendimia Godello, José Antonio García
£108 in bond per 6 Drink 2021-2024
“The pale 2018 Aires de Vendimia Godello is balsamic, varietal and also serious, with good finesse, reflecting a cooler year when the wines reflect the conditions with more freshness. It comes from sandy soils that tend to deliver fine and elegant wines. This has moderate alcohol and, thus, a medium body and very good freshness and acidity, with parameters that are not common for the variety. The juice from the direct pressing was put in 500-liter oak barrels to ferment with all the solids and with indigenous yeasts, and the wine matured in those same containers with the fine lees for one year. The wine does not show any oak whatsoever. It's precise, tasty and long.”Luis Gutiérrez