The City of Toro it's Wine & Gastronomy
I have two great friends that I’ve known since I arrived in the Basque Country and that’s around 25 years, Tomas and Elena. I met Tomas by chance; one day I needed a taxi to take me from the village where I was living and still live Mungia (12km from center of Bilbao) to the airport. Tomas took me and I told him that I was flying to Switzerland and would be back within two days to which he responded, I’ll pick you up when you arrive, I said fine but advanced that the flight would arrive around 11:25 pm, and he replied no problem, years later I found out that he used to get up every day at 05:00 am to pick up workers from Bilbao that worked in a factory in Mungia. Well that started a relationship that extended to other member of our company and all visiting clients, he never said no to a service and never questioned the time and destination of same, a great professional appreciated by all. He retired many years ago and his daughter Ana Maria took over his taxi berth in Mungia and kept attending our group and its various companies. In any case Tomas family are like family to Luisa and I and we are very close. When he retired he moved to his birth city of Toro and lives there with Elena very happily, Luisa and I have visited Toro and surroundings on many occasions and love its people, gastronomy and wines. The food and cuisine is very different from what we are used to in the Basque country, but both are fantastic delicious and very tasty. Today I’ll introduce you to the area, gastronomy and wines.
Tucked away in western Castilla y León (a large autonomous region that encompasses historic towns like Salamanca, Leon, Avila, Zamora, Segovia, Burgos and Valladolid), and only a mere 40km from the Portuguese border, the DO (appellation) of Toro is a historic, overwhelmingly rural region known for its bold red wines. Its 62,000 hectares extend throughout a floodplain bounded by the Río Guareña and Río Duero, the latter a wide river responsible for nourishing such great wine-producing areas as Ribera del Duero, Rueda, and the Douro and Porto regions of Portugal. The closest city is Zamora, which has a beautiful Parador and an amazing amount of Romanesque architecture including the spectacular San Salvador cathedral. Toro is firmly on the wine lovers map and has a few excellent restaurants.
Tempranillo, here called Tinto de Toro, has been the primary grape grown in the region since the times of the Christian “Reconquista”, when an influx of bishops, priests, scholars and members of the royal family created a sophisticated market for fine wines in the 11th and 12th centuries. The DO was created in 1987 with just four wineries, but the area’s proven success, combined with ever-rising land prices in other Spanish regions, . Fifteen years ago, there were only 10 wineries in the Toro D.O. today there are over fifty. Today’s Tinto de Toro is an early-ripening grape known for being thick-skinned and potent, which translates into character-filled wines noted for their color, strength and jam like flavors. Vineyards sit at the relatively high altitude of 600 to 750 meters and are made of a mix of clayey, sandy and calcareous soils. Since summers can be long, hot and dry (although with cool, crisp nights), vines are able to tap into the moisture trapped deep in these clay soils. Most of Toro’s best-known wines are 100 percent Tinto de Toro, although wines with just 75 percent of the variety can still qualify for DO status. Other varieties grown here include Garnacha and Cabernet Sauvignon (although only Garnacha is permitted to accompany the Tinto de Toro in DO-certified wines). A few white wines are made as well, mainly from the varieties Malvasía and Verdejo.
The DO takes its name from the city of Toro, a center of winemaking that sits high above the banks of the Río Duero. Known for its medieval architecture and stunning riverside setting, Toro was the site of Spain’s first university before it was moved to Salamanca. This historic town city was a center of culture and learning in the Middle Ages, as evidenced by remnants like the Colegiata, the Romanesque collegiate church, which is considered one of Spain’s finest examples of Romanesque design. Other winemaking centers include Morales de Toro and Venialbo.
If you are traveling north from Madrid, why not take a side trip and visit a few of the bodegas in the emerging Toro wine region of Spain. The Toro wine region is one of five Spanish wine regions within the area of Castilla y Leon. Fifteen years ago, there were only 10 wineries in the Toro D.O. Today there are over fifty. With modern winemaking techniques and farming, a new breed of winemakers is taming the “Wild Horse The horse in this case is the grape known as Tinto del Toro, a type of Tempranillo grape. The Toro region produces bold and robust wines rich with flavor and aroma.
When visiting Toro, I recommend the fabulous Parador in the small village of Tordesillas. This parador is first class, very tastefully decorated. This Parador has everything you need for comfort. The rooms are very comfortable, there is a fitness room, a large piscina (swimming pool), sauna, and several other amenities. It is about a 40 minute drive to Toro from the Parador. Nevertheless it is probably more convenient to stay in the towns of Toro or Zamora. Between the two cities that’s where many of the Toro wineries are located.
Toro is not a fancy town, the best hotel in town is the modest 3 star Hotel Juan II on the ridge next to the collegiate church. The rooms are not fancy, but they are clean and serviceable 10 euros extra gets you a view of the river and the Roman bridge. If you are lucky, I’ve been told that, a stork will fly past your balcony. It is a peaceful place steeped in history giving one a glimpse of the real Spain, rugged Spain, dramatic Spain, a living, breathing museum to cultural Spain. I really enjoy visiting this town, it seems to get under my skin and make me feel peaceful and happy. Visiting Toro though, really stamped the local wines on my consciousness as they were very impressive. My first glimpse of the wines was a glass of tinto with some tapas in the town square at Emilio’s bar (Tomas nephew) . It wasn’t fancy, but it was very good and I went in search of more. This was provided by the Co-operativa in Morales de Toro, whose Moralinos de Toro tinto gave me enormous pleasure and whose Vina Bajoz was a more considered and sophisticated wine. It was a tasting to remember, held in the coop’s own cafe that shared a wide dusty forecourt with a petrol station, while the winemaker’s wife kept plying us with wonderful homemade chorizo and empanadas. You do not have to look very hard to find wine in Toro, it is all around you. Indeed the southern part of the region is contiguous with the historic Tierra del Vino, while north of the Duero river we are in the Tierra del Pan – the two staples of traditional Spanish life within spitting distance.
Toro has been famous as a wine region since the early middle ages, but there is plenty of evidence that the Romans made wine here too. For as long as records exist, this place has been renown for big red wines that deliver rich, concentrated fruit and hefty tannins. It was the very high alcohol of the local wines together with the massive tannins that made their reputation by ensuring they would keep in good condition and not oxidise in more primitive times when wine was kept in skins and wineries were not the scrupulously clean places they are today. Indeed, legend has it that Columbus took red wine from Toro wines with him on his voyages. It is perhaps this reason, more than any other, that accounts for the fact that in recent times nearby Ribera del Duero has grabbed Castilla y Leon’s wine crown for itself. Until relatively recently, it has long been thought that only rough and ready everyday wines come from Toro. However, that ignores what has happened in Toro over the last 15 years or so. Yes, there are still traditional, gutsy red wines made, but the winemaking has become better and better. The introduction of modern techniques, like using stainless steel fermentation vats and low fermentation temperatures, ensures that the wine coming out of the winery can now be as good as the fruit going in. None of this was lost on the wine producers of Ribera del Duero who have long used fruit from Toro to add a bit of depth and gusto to their wines in lean years. Now that modern bureaucracy forbids such cavalier action they are buying up vineyards in Toro instead.
Most Toro is red and the key grape is the Tinta de Toro, which is a local natural clone of Tempranilllo. Evolving over the centuries, it has developed thicker skins – hence the deep colours and the high tannins in the wines. At between 620-750 meters above sea level the vineyards are pretty high, forming a gently undulating plateau that soaks up the blistering sun during the day so creating an incredible buildup of ripeness that shows in the finished wine as fruit, alcohol – the minimum allowed is 12.5% – color and tannins. All of this makes for wines that are richer and fruitier than Rioja with its more savory character, even though the grapes are very closely related. The D.O. regulations require a minimum of 75% Tinta de Toro for the red wines of the region. Garnacha/Grenache is also allowed for blending with Tinta de Toro – both for the red wines, to soften those big tannins and the rosados. Just in case the rosados are not refreshing enough, a little white Toro is produced, mainly from the wonderfully fleshy Malvasia grape which is often blended with a some Verdejo for Sauvignon Blanc-like acidity and balance.
- The red wines are predominantly made with 100% Tinta de Toro grapes. there are several types of reds:
- Young red: best drunk within the year of production
- Roble: a young red aged between three and six months (can contain some Garnacha)
- Crianza: aged for at least two years, of which at least six months in oak barrel
- Reserva: aged for at least three years, of which one year in oak barrel
- Gran Reserva: aged for at least five years, of which two years in oak barrel
- The rosé wines are made from 50% Tinta de Toro and 50% Garnacha
- The white wines are made from 100% Verdejo or 100% Malvasía
For too long Toro has languished in the shadows and I have championed the region as much as I can. I have therefore been thrilled to see a slow emergence of wines from Toro onto the international market – here are a few that I have managed to try:
Marques de la Villa Malvasia, D.O. Toro. Covitoro/Vino de Toro, Toro Malvasia with 5% Verdejo. An attractive, quite soft and richly textured dry white wine that is just a little too fat to be crisp – an easy drinking and multi-purpose wine of good quality.
Marques de la Villa Rosado. D.O. Toro. Covitoro/Vino de Toro, Toro,Tinta de Toro with 10% Garnacha. Another very easy wine with rich strawberry fruit with a good kick of acidity keeping it fresh – love the outrageous colour.
Cano Tinto Tempranillo-Garnacha.D.O. Toro. Pagos del Rey, Morales de Toro.Tinta de Toro with 25% Garnacha. Richly fruity, glug gable and enjoyable with very soft tannins that are barely noticeable – real happy juice and a wonderful wine for the money.
Marques de la Villa Tinta de Toro. D.O. Toro, Covitoro/Vino de Toro, Toro, 100% Tinta de Toro – 3 months in American oak barrels.. A more rugged, rich and tannic wine with some real depth and concentration and lovely sweetly ripe fruit, not to mention huge tannins for a bottle – the epitome of Toro! It is softened a little by some oak, but it still needs decanting to get some air in there I think – terrific wine that is full of character. It delivers a lot of wine for the money.
Vega Lizarde Joven. D.O. Toro, Bodegas Torreduero, Toro100% Tinta de Toro. This producer is an offshoot of Rioja’s Bodegas Riojanas and this medium-bodied wine seems to deliver a little more elegance and finesse, as well as softer, but still pretty hefty, tannins. There is lovely fruit and underlying spice here too. Great value for money.
Quinta El Refugio Tinto. D.O. Toro, Bodegas Torreduero, Toro. 100% Tinta de Toro – 3 months in American oak barrels.Vega Lizarde’s big brother, this is pretty intense and concentrated with a sinewy texture rather than the richly fruity feel of the earlier reds. This together with some oak ageing makes the whole thing more savory and spicy with touches of vanilla and cocoa and coffee giving the wine a more complex and fine feel.
Canus Verus Vinas Viejas . D.O. Toro. Covitoro/Vino de Toro, Toro, 100% Tinta de Toro – 9 months in French and American oak barrels. Vinas Viejas indeed, these are ungrafted bush vines that are well over 100 years old. A wonderful wine with great depth and concentration, rich fruit and plenty of power too, but it all seems in balance and there is even a freshness and a finesse to the rich, multi-layered finish.
Maurodos San Roman. Bodegas Maurodos, D.O. Toro,100% Tinta de Toro , 24 months in French; American oak barrels.. Lush and silky and delicious, with a wonderful creamy ripeness balancing the rich spice and licorice.Even the big grippe tannins on the finish were fine in context, but time or food will tame those, this is a great wine.
Bodegas Pintia, D.O. Toro, 100% Tinta de Toro – 23 months in new French (70%); American (30%) oak barrels.This bodega was created by Vega Sicilia and the pedigree shows, yes it is more rustic and earthy than Vega itself, or even Alion, but it is a very fine wine indeed. The nose is quite perfumed while the palate tis quite brooding, very concentrated and offers much to whether you drink it now or age it for quite a few years to soften it out.
The region makes hugely enjoyable wines of great quality that provide rewarding drinking whether you are looking for everyday whites or rosados, bargain red wines that over-deliver quality for the price or truly fine bottles for a dinner party or even your cellar.
Gastronomy of Toro, Much more than wine!
Toro has always been one of our favorite destinations. As we have discovered long ago in our first visit to this town of Zamora, a walk in the historic center is most pleasant. Enjoy its wines and its tapas, a wonder, but the gastronomic production of Toro is also an offer of local products of high quality and tradition. Due to its geographical and historical situation, it was the defensive head of the kingdom of León during the reconquest, this allowed for a close contact with the people from the north of Spain, such as Galicians and Asturians, necessary. Due to this interchance of cultures, although diluted with the passage of time, some aspects are still present in the gastronomic tradition, especially in the the preparation of certain dishes.
Galician and Asturian influences
Presently typical dishes can still be found that have almost nothing that could relate them with the gastronomy of the meseta or with the páramo leonés, such as the sanabresa, octopus or the red wine of Toro wild Boar also Peaches in Toro wine . the same can be said related to the production of a selection of cheeses and traditional sausages with proper name, grouped under the protection of the Zamoranean denomination of origin products .Although in Castile and Leon in general, and in particular in the province of Zamora, the culinary tradition prizes the raw material, the strong point being, elaborations based more on the product .This external influence can be found in dishes such as the succulent Zamora rice, tranca cod fish or the sanabresa, octopus.
Eating Tapas in Toro is a joy. It is worth strolling through its streets flanked by sturdy houses and monumental buildings. There are a lot of architectural marvels from the end of the XII century, one of them being the building where the Denomination of Origin Toro is located . Of course, if you want to get to know the city of Toro, do not miss its tapas bars. From the cazuelitas, the mini - hamburgers to the most classic cod and octopus tapas, You will leave with a new body sensation. In Toro you will find several areas for tapas, the most popular and frequented area is the Plaza Mayor. I also found that In other less busy streets, one can also find good bars for tapas, but let me introduce to you some of the bars that I know you will be more than satisfied. Halfway between the clock tower and the Colegiata is the Plaza Mayor where more than a dozen restaurants are located. The most interesting for tapas are:
The Alegria bar is located in the arcades of the main square. A friendly owner caters from the bar surrounded by mouth-watering tapas. I will not easly forget their breaded skewers and homemade croquettes , ideal to place the body to tone on a cold day. If it the weather is good, you can have the tapas outside on a small high table next to the door. With the drink one is invited to a tapa ,us, which could be olives, some torrez or chilli peppers, but the choice one has available from the bar is unbelievable.
Bar Restaurant La Comedia. Is a more up - to - date bar than the previous one This bar is narrower and if it is cold it is better to go to the basement, where there is usually more room. They had a nice red wine from Vega Sauco wine cellar aged 8 months in oak barrelof. As far as I know, this restaurant has won the Toro tapas and tapas competition on three occasions with the tapas like : Canino, Buen rollo y Preñada. enjoyable and recomended place.
Noche y Dia Restaurant. Continue under the porch until you reach the next stop: the Noche y Dia Restaurant , this is another classic of this square. The interior of this bar is fabulous and well decorated, but there were so many people inside that we finally preferred to stay on the terrace. We ordered a red wine aged in oak Madremía, from Bodegas Divina Proporción; of Toro, Origin of course. In this restaurant we asked for the tapa lagartijo, this one is also a winning tapa, of another local contest of tapas in Toro. It consists of a few stuffed small green peppers on a toast. We were also told that the famous tapa el Nazareno al Ajillo , was also a previous winner of the Toro tapas contest by popular vote.
Restaurant La Esquina de Colás, this restaurant can be foundin the arcades of the square. This place has the charm of a traditional village bar that, the interior is pleasant and its features was renovated with class. The only downside is that it is very small for the amount of people that converge inside. It's kind of overwhelming. Like everyone else the owner has solved this problem by using the porch as a winter terrace.In this bar continue to drink local wines I specifically recommend an Eliseo Field, reserve, a red bodied wine with a beautiful red roof tile color, very beautiful, strong and dark. Very astringent, really delicious, a treat for the senses.We accompany this wine with canapes of the widest variety available, I recommend the Zamorano morcilla and Bombas de PolloChicha canapés, they are if I might say spectacular. Great stuff everything really delicious.
Mesón Zamora Returning using the same way back to where we initially came from and crossing the square to go to the road of the Clock Tower, we find the Mesón-Restaurante Zamora. This one is another classic situated in the main square of Toro. It is striking how wide it is, it looks bigger inside than from the outside . Still, it fills up. The place has that flavor of an old inn, with wood panels, Castilian slate on the floor and tiles on the walls. I’ve been told that here they are specialists in cod portions . one should try a ration of cod in batter with a pine nut sauce it’s just fantastic, If it’s something you have no objections in eating try a serving of tripe with tomato, very good. Accompany with a red oak Rejadorada wine, from Bodegas Rejadorada . Although they call it matured in oak barrels, I feel we could be speaking of a good Crianza. Prices are was not cheap, but for both the quality of the wine and the portions, I feel it’s not too bad.
The Tapeo in Toro is still very unknown. The tapas available are a marvel, a treasure yet to be discovered. Its bars offer a wide variety of tapas and wines that fit all tastes and pockets. Just take a walk around there to get to know it firsthand. I recommend you to enjoy from time to time this great city, rich in history, art and gastronomy . And if you can, from the hand of some local Toresano, Well in my case I have Tomas, Elena and all their family that really spoil us whenever we visit.