Sunday, February 25, 2024

Toro is Taking the Bull by the Horns

           The Toro wine district will be the first Spanish wine region Wine-Knows will visit 

Toro means bull in Spanish.  This tiny wine district lies just across the border from Portugal’s grape growing region for Port grapes, but it’s not just a border these two wine areas share.  The famous Douro River in Portugal flows from Portugal’s most famous viticultural region, to the city of Porto where it empties into the Atlantic.   The Douro becomes the Duero River the minute one crosses into Spain.  The Duero/Douro is actually birthed in Spain between the Rioja and the Ribera del Duero wine regions. 

                            The Duero river exerts a tremendous influence on Toro's terroir

Wine-Knows will follow the Douro to the Duero on our trip from Portugal to Spain on this autumn’s itinerary.  Toro, like Napa, is the name both of the area’s main town, as well as the wine district. While it is unclear exactly how the town’s name originated, the “bull” is nonetheless a fitting symbol for its quite robust red wines have been coveted by royalty since the 13th Century.  

             Toro town, with a population of  8,000 persons, offers a slice of off-the-beaten-path Spain

The Toro region was among the first to be recognized by the Spanish government as having unique and special wines.  In 1933 it was granted important D.O. status which at the time was the highest quality wine in Spain.  Shortly thereafter the Spanish Civil War broke out and Toro wines were one of the many casualties.  It took 50 years for the area’s winemakers to refocus.  In 1987 a handful of local wineries banded together to reapply for a second D.O. status.   It was granted and this began a renaissance in Toro.             

  D.O. guarantees the consumer a level of quality from grapes grown under certain conditions in Toro

Fast forward to today, there are now 60 wineries in Toro.   Many of the owners of these new wineries are from outside of Toro (most notably the Ribera del Duero and the Rioja), however, some of the most illustrious movers-and-shakers in French wine have invested heavily.    Moreover, Toro is winning awards on the world-wide wine stage.  Britain’s Decanter, (their equivalent of Wine Spectator) is giving 97 point scores to Toro’s muscular reds.

          Wine-Knows will be staying in Zamora, a historic Roman city on the Duero while in Toro

If you’re one of the fortunate Wine-Knows coming with us on the Portugal-Spain tour in September, you’ll have the opportunity to taste this upcoming region’s stellar wines and learn first-hand how Toro’s unique terroir is responsible for shaping a different version of the renowned Tempranillo grape.

Ever heard of Spain's Rueda wine region?   The next blog will cover these coveted white wines made from the Verdejo grape.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

5 Big Differences: Ribera Del Duero v. Rioja

                 Although both districts are Tempranillo-centric, the wines of the Ribera del Duero                                                                      are very different from the Rioja 

Spain’s Rioja wine area was discussed in the last Blog.  Today, we’ll focus on the neighboring Ribera Del Duero (RdD) district.  The RdD, like the Rioja, produces high quality, complex wines that have great aging potential.  While both of the wine regions are located at approximately the same latitude and only a few hours drive from one another, they are distinctly different.   Below are five significant differences between the two rock-star districts.

    The Duero River (Douro across the border in Portugal) exerts a huge influence on the RdD's terroir

1.     Terroir

Both the RdD & Rioja have major rivers that moderate their climates.  The RdD, traversed for 70 miles by the Duero River, is a 3,000 foot high plateau with baking hot summers and freezing cold winters which are tamed by this river.   Unlike the Rioja, there is no maritime influence from the Atlantic.  Furthermore, in contrast to the Rioja, the RdD’s soil is clay, silt & limestone.

                     RdD wines are more masculine than the Rioja's softer style wines

          2. Wine Characteristics

The extreme climatic conditions coupled with the heartier soils of the RdD translate to wines that tend to be more muscular than those of the Rioja.  RdD wines are typically from riper grapes of darker fruit with higher alcohol potential.  Due to its terroir, the RdD also has more assertive flavors (think black cherry & blackberry), while the Rioja offers softer red fruit flavors such as strawberry.

3.     Grapes

 Tempranillo is King in both the RdD and the Rioja.  In the RdD, however,         Tempranillo is called Tinto Fino (an actual local varietal of Tempranillo that has   adapted to the harsh terroir).  In contrast to the Rioja, the RdD also uses Cabernet   Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec for blending.

The official seal guarantees authenticity for the consumer that wine is from the RdD wine region

4.     Wine Laws

     The RdD is a wine infant in comparison to the Rioja.   The Rioja’s wine laws were established in 1925 while the RdD did not launch its regional rules until 1982.  While the Rioja is entrenched with nearly a century of laws, the new kid on the block is thinking out of the box and pushing the envelope for new ideas such as single vineyard wines.  

5.     Amounts & Types of Wine Produced

The RdD produces 98M bottles annually, however, the Rioja produces a whopping 350M bottles.  While both wine districts are red-centric producers, the RdD’s production of red wine accounts for 97% of its total.  In contrast, the 86% of the Rioja’s wines are red.   

Stay tuned for the next Blog which will showcase the wines of the Toro region that Wine-Knows' travelers will also be visiting on the October tour of Northern Spain.

Monday, February 5, 2024

5 Facts You Should Know about the Rioja

Whether you're coming with Wine-Knows on their sold-out tour to Spain this autumn or not, here's a quick summary of the top things for wine-lovers to know about the Rioja wine district.

1.  The Rioja is Spain’s most famous wine district. 

The Rioja is arguably Spain’s top wine region and certainly the most famous wine area with the exception of Jerez (Sherry) in southern Spain.  Internationally renowned, the Rioja’s prestigious wines often receive top-ratings by critics and connoisseurs.   This being said, the Rioja has increasingly had to fight off competition from the nearby Ribera Del Duero region.   Nonetheless, the Rioja is still considered Spain’s most important and finest producer of premium red wines.

                             Tempranillo, the Rioja's most famous grape, is a major part of red blends

         2.  Wines are often blended in the Rioja.

Red wines in the Rioja are traditionally a blend of traditional Spanish red grape varieties.  The base of the blend is Tempranillo, however, Garnacha (aka Grenache), Graciano and Mazuelo (aka Carignan) are also used in the blends. 


                             The Rioja is also one of Spain's most beautiful wine regions

       3.  The Rioja also produces terrific white, rose & sparkling wines.

Although the Rioja is associated mainly with red wines, the region also makes some stunning whites and rose (rosado) wines.  White Rioja (Rioja Blanco), is quite rare making up only 5-10% of the region’s wines.  Viura is the main grape of these white wines, however,  Rioja Blancos are a blend of other grapes like Garnacha Blanca, Tempranillo Blanco, Malvasia, and even Chardonnay.  Sparkling wine is also made and has been included in the Rioja's latest wine classification.

             Rioja Alavesa lies at the foot of the mountains separating the Rioja from the Atlantic

        4.  The Terroir of the Rioja is Diverse.

The Rioja wine region is about 210 square miles.  The mountains on its northern border help moderate the climate by protecting the region from the strong influences of the Atlantic.  The River Ebro flows through the region also moderates the climate, protecting it in winter from freezing temperatures and cooling it in the scalding summers.   In general, the Rioja’s soil is limestone and iron.

The Rioja is divided into 3 sub-districts based upon terroir.

~ Rioja Alavesa is the most northern of the 3 sub-regions.  It is closest to the Atlantic so the area is colder.  Soil here is limestone and clay.

~ Rioja Alta comprises the higher altitudes vineyards in the western section of the Rioja.  Soil is iron rich and clay.

 ~ Rioja Oriental (formerly called Rioja Baja) is located in the eastern section of the district and accounts for 40% of the region’s wine.  This area is composed of lower altitude vineyards.  Unlike the other two sub-districts, it is warm and dry.  Soil, washed down from higher altitudes, is high in iron.


    5.  The Rioja’s wine classification system was changed in 2018.

While aging requirements have always been present in the Rioja's wine system (Crianza 2 year minimum, Reserva 3 year minimum & Gran Reserva 5 year minimum), the biggest change in the new rules is the addition of the sparkling wine category, Gran Anada, and the allowance of single vineyard wines echoing the importance of terroir.

Stay tuned for the next article on the Ribera del Duero wine district that Wine-Knows travelers will also be visiting this October.