Toro

Toro is a wine region in Castilla y Leon, north-western Spain, known for its powerful red wines made from Tempranillo. It is named for the town of Toro, an ancient settlement located on the Duero River (which bisects the region's northern half) just 40 miles (65km) east of the Portuguese border. The Spanish word toro means "bull", and while it is unclear precisely how the town's name came about, the bull is nonetheless a fitting symbol for robust, red Toro wines.

Wines made around Toro have been respected for many hundreds of years (viniculture here dates back to pre-Roman times). They were popular with royalty as far back as the 13th century, when King Alfonso IX of Leon said "tengo un Toro que me da vino y un León que me lo bebe" (I have a bull who gives me wine and a lion who drinks it). In this witty play on words, the bull is Toro and the lion is the Kingdom of Leon.

In terms of grape varieties, Tinta de Toro (the local form of Tempranillo) is by far the dominant grape variety in Toro. A tiny amount of Garnacha is also grown, mostly for use in Toro Rosado (the region's rosé wine), alongside small quantities of Malvasia Blanca and Verdejo for use in white Toro Blanco.

Toro's climate is decidedly continental, just like the other wine regions of the Castilian plateau (neighbouring Rueda, Cigales and Ribera del Duero). This means hot, dry summers followed by cold, harsh winters. Although the vast expanses of the Atlantic Ocean lie both to the north and west, Toro's vineyards are deprived of any significant maritime influence by the Cordillera Cantábrica, the mountain range that separates Castilla y Leon from Spain's north coast. Temperatures here range from 12°F to 97°F (-11°C to 36°C), and the annual rainfall average is very low – just 14in (350mm). The Duero River provides a much-needed source of water, and vineyards stray very little from its path.

Altitude plays an important role in Toro's terroir. The region lies at the very heart of Castilla y Leon, on the vast, high plateau that separates the Cordillera Cantábrica and Sistema Central mountain ranges. Most Toro vineyards sit at altitudes between 2,000ft (600m) and 2,800ft (850m) above sea level, which helps to cool the climate slightly; air temperature drops about 1.1°F/0.6°C with every 330ft/100m of altitude.

High daytime temperatures, low rainfall and abundant sunshine combine to create powerful, high alcohol wines. If left unchecked, Toro's Tempranillo grapes would ripen with very high potential alcohol, resulting in wines of up to 16% alcohol by volume (ABV). Local wine laws (as administered by the Consejo Regulador de Toro) impose an upper limit of 15% ABV, but in practice most producers try to keep alcohol levels below 13.5% in order to keep the wines approachable and balanced. Toro's red wines may be labelled with terms such as Joven, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva. These indicate how long a wine is aged before commercial release.

Toro's obvious potential as a wine region has encouraged wine producers from other regions (both Spanish and foreign) to establish wineries there. Prominent among these are Numanthia-Termes, Vega Sicilia Pintia, Bodegas Mauro (Eduardo Garcia) and Campo Elíseo (Michel Rolland and Francois Lurton). This increasing interest has helped to rejuvenate the Toro region and its wines – an effect which has spilled over into other parts of Castilla y Leon.
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