The Wines of Toro
It all comes down to this – one last day in the mountains, and the race organizers might as well have deemed this the only stage in the race. With just six seconds between overall leader Tom Dumoulin and Fabio Aru, whoever dominates the four Cat 1 climbs (see the stage profile map) will win not only the day, but the Vuelta. And there is another battle brewing; that between Joaquim Rodriguez, currently wearing the green sprinters jersey, and Alejandro Valverde who is three points shy of stealing that shirt off his back. With the sprint segment coming so late in the stage (at the 140 km mark) look for these two riders to mark each other all day, over hill and dale, to the bitter end. Should be exciting!
For our wine excursion today, I’m heading due east of Rueda, where we stopped yesterday, to the red wine hot-spot of Toro. DO Toro lies between the Duero River Valley to the east and the Portuguese border to the west. It is harsh and difficult terrain in which to grow grapes (or anything else!) but Mother Nature is an amazing force. Local vintners specialize in the cultivation of Tinta de Toro, a local variation of the Tempranillo grape that has adapted to its unfriendly environment by developing thicker skins, thus enabling it to survive the very cold winters here. And because of the sandy soil that underlies most of the DO, phlloxera has not had the deleterious effects in Toro that it has wreaked on most European vineyards. In fact, many of the vines are nearly a century old and remain on their original rootstocks.
Toro has produced wine for hundreds of years, traditionally big, powerful wines with gutsy tannins and high alcohol levels. While that may not sound like a great sales pitch for modern markets, those very characteristics made the wines from Toro attractive to buyers in foreign ports. The alcohol and structure of the wine allowed it to survive long journeys at sea, particularly to the New World. It is rumored that Christopher Columbus brought copious supplies of Toro wine on his famous voyage to the West, nearly filling the cargo holds of the Niña with the powerful juice.
These days, modern winemaking has taken hold in the DO, and regulations dictate a maximum alcohol threshold of 15% for wines bearing the Toro mark. Temperature-controlled fermentations and the use of stainless steel tanks are also commonplace, with local wineries turning out some very elegant wines that have made the international markets take notice. Winemakers from Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Bordeaux have also joined in on the fun in Toro, as it is increasingly recognized as a promising spot for high-quality wines.
Wines from the Toro DO are fairly well distributed in the US, so finding them shouldn’t be difficult. In the larger stores, they usually occupy shelf space with the wines of Ribera del Duero, so look there first. It would be an interesting comparison to taste a Toro wine with one from the Ribera del Duero, since the DOs are not far apart. And maybe throw a Rioja into the mix for good measure. Add a few tapas and invite a few friends and you’ve got a first-rate Spanish Cata de Vino!