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 reconquest, 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, have pushed the number to more than 40 wineries.
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 jammy 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.