by Sharon Kapnick
Although Spanish wines have received much acclaim over the past decade or so, its Toro region may not yet be on your wine radar range. If you’re a red wine lover, you’d do well to try its wines for two reasons: They’re very good, and they offer very good value. (Especially good value resides in lesser known areas.)
The region has recently been fulfilling its potential. In 2004 influential wine critic Robert M. Parker Jr. made 12 predictions in Food & Wine magazine. Prediction No. 6, “Spain Will Be the Star,” states that “by 2015, those areas that have traditionally produced Spain’s finest wines (Ribera del Duero and Rioja) will have assumed second place behind such up-and-coming regions as Toro, Jumilla and Priorat.” While that remains to be seen, the regions Parker singled out have certainly been on the move.
Toro indeed has a lot to offer. While the DO (denominación de origen) appellation, west of Ribera del Duero and northwest of Madrid, once produced wines that were valued for their healing properties, today, according to John Radford, author of The New Spain, they’re valued for their “tradition of strength, power and fruit.” The most widely planted grape is Tinto de Toro, aka Tempranillo, the versatile red-wine star of Spanish grapes. Tinto de Toro wines are generally fruit forward, concentrated, rich in aromas with good structure, firm tannins and the ability to age well. And Toro boasts some of the oldest vines in Spain, vines that have never been affected by the dreaded root-eating phylloxera louse. (Old vines support fewer grapes, and wines made from them are generally regarded as superior, more complex, more nuanced.)
To become familiar with the DO, you’d do well to start with the family-owned Bodegas Fariña, established in 1942. Proprietor Manuel Fariña Sr. is known as the founding father of Toro owing to his pioneering efforts in the ̕70s and ̕80s. He brought worldwide attention to the region and modernized the style of its wines. After harvest dates were moved up by 4 weeks, for example, alcohol levels were lowered from 17% to 13%-13.5%. Fariña introduced stainless steel temperature-controlled fermentation tanks about 30 years ago. He steered what had been a jug wine business into high-quality, Bordeaux-influenced bottled wines.
The Fariñas believe that love, passion and respect are three crucial ingredients for great wine. Their wines have all three, and their quality has been recognized by many. Bodegas Fariña was chosen in 2011 by Wine & Spirits magazine as one of the four top Spanish value brands for its “true Toro reds at unbeatable prices.” And Parker has praised Bodegas Fariña for its “wines with explosive aromas, full body, fine balance and enormous fruit.”
To sample what Toro and Bodegas Fariña have to offer, here are three wines to try:
The Toro Dama de Toro Tempranillo 2010 (SRP* $11) goes well with most foods, which, along with its reasonable price, makes it a fine house wine. It’s soft yet intense, fruity (aromas and flavors of cherry, raspberry and other berries), has good acidity and a velvety texture.
Fariña Especial 70 Aniversario 2009 (SRP $25) celebrates the winery’s 70th anniversary. Aromas and flavors of red and black berry fruits, spice, black pepper and chocolate. Elegant, well balanced, firm tannins, good structure, will age well. Made from vines that are at least 50 years old.
The Toro Gran Dama de Toro 2006 (SRP $45), Fariña’s premium wine, would cost twice as much if it were from a prestigious region. An elegant, powerful, complex wine with flavors of cherry, red berries and spice. Full bodied, with a silky texture. Made from 80- to 90-year-old vines.
*Wines can usually be found for less–sometimes considerably less–than the SRP (suggested retail price). Check out wine-searcher.com to get an idea of actual prices.
NB: I tried these wines at a press event.