Spain has been on a roll lately, with such a diversity of exciting wine coming from under-explored regions that some of its “first wave” appellations—like Toro—are being overlooked. When I say “first wave,” I mean the wines that thrilled critics and collectors before the reds of Galicia or Catalonia appeared on anyone’s radar: The powerhouse reds of the Ribera del Duero were the most famous of these, while just downriver sat Toro, whose terroir and grape varieties were effectively the same but its prices much lower. We often talk about the incredible values to be found in the “next-door” appellations of Burgundy, and the same goes for Spain. Toro is to Ribera del Duero what Pernand-Vergelesses is to Aloxe-Corton, but if that doesn’t mean anything to you, let me put it another way: This richly textured red from Bodegas Elias Mora is just what the doctor ordered right now.
Crafted from Tempranillo (here called Tinta de Toro) and loaded with dark, saturated fruit and an intense mineral backbone, this is muscular, whole-body red wine to combat the many chilly nights ahead. The style here does a rare and special thing in wine: it pretty much pleases everyone, from those who like bigger, bolder red wines to those who appreciate subtler wines of nuanced terroir. I’ll go a step further and say that, as someone who gets to taste a lot of supremely polished, luxury-tier reds from the likes of Napa and Bordeaux, this wine puts a lot of those wines to shame at just $39. It’d cost double if it came from Ribera del Duero and who-knows-how-much from Napa, so if bold reds are your thing, I’d strongly suggest grabbing some of this. It’s that good.
Winemaking in Toro dates back millennia, when the area was a Roman outpost in central Spain. Evidence of the deep tradition in the region is everywhere. In fact, on the Bodega Elias Mora property itself, there is an ancient wine cellar dug into a hillside that experts have dated to the 6th century. Upon seeing the region, one can understand the deep vinous history. With high elevation plateaus and windswept hillsides, the area was suitable for only the hardiest grains and vines. The harsh climate (sun-baked days and cold nights) has made for the local tradition of vines trained en vaso, a.k.a. the “bush” method. With this technique, the leaves surround each vine offering it 360-degree protection from the blazing Spanish sun while maximizing photosynthesis. With the sandy soils found in Toro, phylloxera blight has never been an issue, so the bulk of the area’s vines are “own-rooted,” i.e. planted on their original rootstocks. The principal grape variety is Tinta de Toro, the local variant of Tempranillo, Spain’s famous red grape. There are some key differences that set Tinta de Toro apart—namely thicker skins and higher concentration of phenolic compounds. All this amounts to denser, darker wines—Toro’s unmistakable signature.
Counter to what the name might suggest, the story of Bodega Elias Mora is one of a driven woman named Victoria Benavides. She founded the bodega in 2000 after falling in love with the region and its largely untouched old-vine vineyards. After fruitless years of trying to buy vineyard land in the region, she was introduced to Elias Mora, an elderly local farmer who agreed to sell her an eight-hectare, old-vine parcel just outside San Roman de Hornija, in the heart of Toro. Victoria decided to name the bodega after Elias, in thanks for the land as well as the decades of knowledge that he imparted to her about the region and the vagaries of Tinta de Toro. It was through her talent and hard work that she has made Bodega Elias Mora one of the most consistently excellent wineries in Toro today. The bodega now owns 16 hectares of vineyards while also farming and harvesting a total of 70 hectares in Toro, all using organic practices. The soils in the vineyards are typical of Toro, mainly consisting of clay, sand, and limestone, with plenty of large, rounded river stones akin to those found in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
The Toro region was blessed with a wonderful growing season in 2016, with near-perfect weather conditions allowing the grapes to achieve the area’s signature concentration while maintaining balance and elegance. After harvesting the grapes by hand in late September, Benavides de-stems everything and allows the whole berries to cold soak for three days. Fermentation proceeds in stainless steel tanks before the wine is aged for 12 months in a combination of French and American oak barrels. This hybrid oak regimen gives the wine a polished rusticity with flickers of the dilly elements of old-school Spanish Rioja as well as slicker, dark fruit laced with vanilla. As one would suspect, the color in the glass is a deep inky purple, out to the rim. I recommend a 30+ minute decant and serving at 60-65 degrees in large Bordeaux glasses to open up this wine. The nose is ripe but layered with an astounding array of aromas including black plum, blackberry compote, leather, tobacco, cocoa, anise, thyme, blueberry, and violets. The palate is full-bodied, exploding with earthy fruit to start and coating the palate with powerful, yet ripe, tannins. Most remarkable is the freshness—rarely is a red wine that is this concentrated also so lifted and nimble. As the weather gets colder, I want at least a six-pack of this wine on hand for the winter months. My ideal scene for this wine involves a fireplace and a rich, meaty dish like an oxtail stew. Sound good? I thought so. Cheers!