The Story of Ferdinand, written by Munro Leaf is a charming children’s tale of a kind and gentle bull. Ferdinand is enchanted by nature, a lover of flowers and happy to chill in the shade of her favourite oak tree. He is a bull unlike any other.
At the recent London tasting of Toro wines, I kept thinking about Ferdinand.
Toro wines have a reputation for being robust and fully charged. On the Toro website wine there is a Tim Atkin, MW article in which winemaker, Victoria Benavides, is quoted as saying, “Some people say that we should make wines that taste like Rioja in Toro, but that’s impossible. Without tannin and 14% alcohol Toro isn’t Toro. This region has so much fruit and favour in its wines. The challenge is to express it elegantly.”
Atkin’s piece is dated 2005 but tasting my way round the room, alcohol and tannin are still dominant. This isn’t necessarily bad, but the balance of the two isn’t always secure.
Toro’s Tinta de Toro grape is Tempranillo, but the variety has a decidedly more strident quality here than in any other Tempranillo wine I have tasted.
I respect the expression of Toro’s extreme terroir in many of the wines, but I struggled with the wines where oak was being used in a way that seemed unhelpfully old-fashioned, making some examples excessively hefty and unbalanced.
Step forward Bodegas Rodríguez y Sanzo. This family-owned business makes wine across Spain, and I wonder if it is this that helps inspire a freshness and energy in their Toro wines?
Listening to winemaker, Javier Rodriguez on YouTube, this is a deeply knowledgeable and thoughtful man, who has ticked the ‘top quality wine’ checklist. High-altitude, organic, and biodynamically manged vineyards for a start. Next, a judicious approach to harvesting, with an optimal balance of sugars, tannins, and flavour.
Rodríguez rents spaces in much larger commercial wineries to make his wines, with is a canny and cost-effective move. In Toro, his space comprises stainless steel, oak from France, Hungary, and the USA too, as well as concrete. He understands the value of each, whether for fermentation or ageing, making his selection dependent on the final wine style he’s after: stainless steel for fresh and fruity, oak for lengthy-ageing, and concrete for added complexity and minerality.
It is his comments on oak that I find interesting. For him, high tannin wines like those of Toro are best suited to French oak because there is less oxidation. He argues that American oak is better suited to areas like Rioja where the wines typically have less tannin.
To the wines. I’ll start first with Las Tierras Garnacha Tinto 2021, which might have first won me over being a refreshing change from Tinta de Toro. The wine is made from old vines, grown in sandy soils at 670m above sea level, in San Román de Hornija. Invitingly fragrant, this wine had lovely, vivid freshness, and a generous expression of ripe, sweet Garnacha. Bountiful but not wearisome. Fun and yet not short on complexity or interest.
However handsome a chap Rodríguez may be, I cannot agree that the label for Tras La Yesca 2021 is a good choice. Apparently, it’s his daughter’s influence: I’m glad she’s evidently so proud of her dad but the label is a turn off for me. Pity, because the wine is a cracker. Tinta de Toro has been nicely tamed here, at no loss of personality or concentration. Supple and charming, the fruit sprightly and fresh. The wine was aged in both French and American oak.
My final pick from the range is Las Tierra El Pego 2019. Another 100% Tinta de Toro, this was aged in two- to three-year-old French and American oak barrels. The fruit comes from higher altitude vineyards (720m) than Tras La Yesca, planted in gravel and clay soils. The fruit was fermented in a combination of stainless steel, concrete and oak before oak ageing, and the resulting textural breadth to the wine was readily identifiable. I enjoyed the grainy, crunchy quality of this wine, that gave it an irresistible energy.
The Toro wines from Rodríguez y Sanzo are my Ferdinand the bull: gently powerful and very loveable. I’d serve them in the shade of my cork tree any day of the week.
The wines are distributed in the UK by Oakley Wine Agencies.