This spring’s Grand Tasting of Toro wines in New York City and numerous other Toro wines I’ve tasted in the last few months show a region of ongoing transition and increasing quality. Although Toro has a rich history of wine production going back millennia, it’s only recently that it has come to the forefront as a top, world-class wine region.
To give some perspective on Toro’s rise, like most wine regions in Spain, Toro struggled commercially for much of the century under the economic isolation of the Franco dictatorship, which ended in 1975. The Toro appellation was officially founded eleven years later in 1987. Then it consisted of seven wineries that were mostly cooperative oriented, like much of the Spanish wine industry during the Franco years.
While some very good wines were made, the cooperative mentality tended to focus more on quantity than quality. So the story of world-class wine in Toro is very much about both breaking free from the cooperative model and at the same time adopting the latest technology and winemaking methods.
The tide began to turn in the early 1990s, when Vega Sicilia—Spain’s most prestigious winery—took an interest in the region. They brought both the means and the knowhow to fully realize the potential of the region. Other important players in this new vanguard were Maurodos with their “San Román” red which debuted with the 1997 vintage, and Numanthia, which debuted with the 1998 vintage to great international and attention grabbing praise in Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate.
New investment and an influx of world-class winemaking talent and modern methods have resulted in the number of wineries increasing to 51 today. Not only that, the overall quality of the wines has risen too; not just among the premiere producers, but also among the producers more focused on the entry level and mid tier.
That first wave of new wines hitting the market like the 1998 Numanthia were very powerful, heavily oaked and highly concentrated, as was the fashion for ambitious wineries trying to make their mark. While a few were able to pull off such wines with balance and finesse, most lacked the very top terroir or skills to manage it. The result was many new wines that were overdone and heavy on the palate, oftentimes dominated by strong, new oak flavors.
This spring’s Toro Grand Tasting has shown a new phase of greater refinement and overall improvement. Generally speaking, reliance on heavy aging in new oak barrels has waned in recent years, as in other noteworthy regions in the wine world. This has been most welcome at the entry and mid-priced levels, allowing for the rich, ripe fruit flavors of Toro to shine through, where before the fruit flavors were often masked by barrel flavors (vanilla/toast/wood) and the grape tannins accentuated by wood tannins from new oak aging.
The lower wood tannin levels also appear to be part of a trend toward overall improved tannin management, which has been appearing more and more in recent years. The result is that today’s Toro wines are showing better balance and further distance between themselves and the rough and rustic Toros of decades ago.
To be sure, this new breed of Toro wines pack plenty of punch, but its wines do so with more polish and harmony than ever before. Toro is one of the few regions, especially at the high end, where the natural power of its fruit can stand up to heavily oaked winemaking styles and still result in balanced wines. While not to everyone’s taste, Toro’s best wines are big and bold, but balanced and deeply satisfying for those who are looking for full-bore wine pleasure.
For more on Toro see:
Disclosure: Although Spanish-Wine-Exclusives, the import company I co-founded, imports Spanish wine, it does not import or have any commercial relationship with any wine from Toro.