Musings on Wine
Recently I enjoyed two wines from the Spanish region of Toro. One was quite delightful, whilst the other left me wanting and I was reminded of a valuable lesson from the experience.
The Spanish DO (protected region) of Toro is located at the countries western border with Portugal. If one continues west from Toro along the Duero River in northern Spain, one arrives in the more famous Port wine region whose picturesque slopes themselves tumble into the locally named Douro River. Starting in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains at La Rioja, the Duero then Douro flows west from its source to Vila Nova de Gaia where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. At 765km, it is the second longest river on the Iberian Peninsula (second only to the Ebro). Not surprisingly, the powerful reds of Toro are not unlike the the magnificent, fortified reds of the Port wine region, save for the sweetness and seriously elevated alcohol levels.
Although Port wine is typically made from a blend of many regional varieties, one of the major grapes is named Tinta Roriz. Arguably the grape variety with the most synonyms, Tinta Roriz is the well-known Spanish variety, Tempranillo but has countless other names which one discovers when travelling throughout the Iberian Peninsula. In Penedes, it's called Ull de Llebre; in La Rioja Tinto Fino; in Ribera del Duero, it's called Tinto del Pais and in Valdepenas Cencibel. Tinta de Toro is its name, conveniently, in the Toro DO. The wines produced here are both dark and extremely powerful and can offer remarkable value in some cases.
Considering one can easily spend more than $100 on the top wines of the region, I was pleased to find two inexpensive wines which I consumed recently. They included Sabor Real 2008 ($15.95) and Eternum Viti 2008 ($13.95). Sourced from 70 year old estate vines, the Sabor Real is a real beauty. Loaded with dark berry, warm earth, spice and elements of ground espresso, this wine really packs a punch with dense but smooth tannins and 14.5% alcohol. The Eternum Viti, on the other hand comes from 40 year old vines and finishes at 14% alcohol. Slightly heavier with overripe fruit notes of raisin and prune, the nose also offered anise, warm dark chocolate and subtle bay nuances.
To my surprise, the two differed vastly in one important aspect - freshness. The Sabor, although slightly more alcohol, was the more alive, juicy and really satisfying of the two whereas the Eternum seemed heavy, brooding, bordering on tired. It's not uncommon to come across wines of this sort in the world's driest, hottest wine regions. Barossa Shiraz can differ in this way with one defined by the freshness and pristine condition of it's fruit expression where the other is dominated by stewy, cooked even lightly oxidative notes. It's impossible to tell which you will encounter from label alone, even though you might be tempted to select by alcohol levels alone which can vary by as much as 1.5 or 2.0%.
Some may wonder whether food can save a Toro from exhaustion, and I would suggest it may be possible to assist, but there is another useful and very simple solution for wines of this sort - correct service temperature. I was reminded that had I chilled the Eternum Viti slightly, perhaps down to 60 degrees F or so, rather than serving it straight off the counter at 80 F, it might have coaxed a little more life and fruit from the wine. Even though the Sabor Real was just fine at the warmer temperature, perhaps there was an even more remarkable wine in my glass had I served it at the appropriate cellar temperature. It is very unlikely chilling it would have done anything to harm the wine.
Tonight I'm eating braised short ribs which have been cooked for 8 hours in Toro and beef stock with black olives, garlic, Tamari sauce and red onions. I'm hopeful that this robustly flavoured, umami-rich stew might bring out the best of both wines, which are both resting comfortably in my 'cool' cellar as I write this.