Spanish wines, from Rioja to Toro

Steve Delaney
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Spanish red wines are growing more popular every year. It seems like just a few years ago you would only find a few of the same old labels in our local stores. There are now more than seven dozen different reds to choose from in prices ranging from inexpensive to outrageous! About a third fit into the under-$20 range, and considering their general quality, this has no doubt helped with their popularity. Spain offers something a little different from the usual run of reds based on French grapes, for those looking for new tastes. The principal varietal is tempranillo, but you will also find such grapes as mencia, monastrell, and bobal. As one of the Top 3 wine-producing countries, there are vineyards and wineries in every corner of Spain. The best known red wine region is Rioja in north-central Spain along the Ebro River. Wines from this region were well known from the 1600s, but received a major boost when phylloxera devastated French vineyards in the mid 1800s. French wine makers moved their operations to an as yet untouched Spain and contributed their knowledge and techniques to the local craft. Perhaps drawing on French traditions from places like Bordeaux, Rioja wines are almost always blends. Tempranillo usually contributes more than half of the blend, followed by garnacha (grenache in France), graciano,and mazuelo (carignan in France). You may recognize a name such as Marques de Murrieta as a well-known producer from Rioja. Ribera del Duero is perhaps the next most well-known red wine-producing region in Spain. It is located southwest of Rioja, further inland, and along the banks of the upper Duero river (which flows into the port-producing part of Portugal and becomes the Douro). Unlike Rioja, red wine from this region is almost always made from the tempranillo grape on its own. This region is home to some of Spain’s most sought-after red wines, including Vega Sicilia, arguably the most expensive wine from Spain (available locally if you can afford it). A little downriver and west of Ribero del Duero is a less-well-known region called Toro. In the Middle Ages, Toro wines were widely recognized and traded widely. The region was eclipsed in later times by places like Rioja and Ribero del Duero. The region has a continental climate with very hot, long, sunny summers and cold winters. Tempranillo is also king here, to the extent that locally the vine is called “tinta de toro” (the red of Toro). There are five red wines from Toro available locally. One of those wines is the Flor de Vetus 2010 (NLC $20.49). Like most Toro wines it is a robust red, yet is smooth and sippable even at this young age. It shows off the capabilities of the tempranillo grape very well with a mix of dark berry fruit, smoke and earth accented by touches of chocolate and pepper. It is medium-bodied with a moderate finish. If you want to experiment with a wine from Toro, this would be a good choice. Score: 15, Rating: Very Good. Steve Delaney is a member of the Opimian Society. Email him at Twitter: @delaneystephen

Organizations: Opimian Society

Geographic location: Rioja, Toro, Spain France Ebro River Bordeaux Duero river Portugal

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