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Why a region famous for rich reds is turning to fizz

A Spanish region that’s built its fame around crafting concentrated and alcoholic reds is pushing for a rule-change to gain regulatory approval for sparkling wines – but why?

Old bush vines in Toro owned by Bodega Numanthia

The area is Toro, a DO in northwest Spain within Castile and Léon, that’s created a following for especially powerful red wines – a result of its hot continental climate and old, low-yielding vineyards planted with Tinto de Toro, which is another name for Tempranillo.

But in a contrasting development, producers in the DO are hoping they will soon be able to use the Toro name on traditional-method sparkling wines made from grapes grown within the region’s boundaries.

News of the move came from general secretary for Toro’s consejo regulador, Rubén Gil Alfageme, who told db at a tasting of the region’s wines in London last week that he was “waiting” for a change in the rules, which currently forbid sparkling wine producers from using the DO on the label.

Although the consejo regulador is in favour of the rule-change, and the development has been approved by Spain’s agricultural ministry, Rubén said that Toro was now waiting for the European Union to allow the move, having “sent the papers to Brussels”.

As a result, he said, “Maybe in 10 months’ time it will be a reality to have sparkling wines in Toro.”

This change will be for fizz that’s bottle-fermented like Champagne, and made in styles from white to rosé, along with sparkling red too, and employing all the grape varieties currently authorised in Toro, which include white grapes Verdejo and Malvasia as well as Moscatel and Albillo, along with red varieties Tinta de Toro and Garnacha.

There are a few reasons why the region is looking to add sparkling wines to its offer, most notably a desire to sate a demand from consumers for refreshing drinks, as well as the fact sparkling wines are already being made within the DO.

“We know consumers are looking for wines that are fresher, with more acidity and less alcohol,” said Rubén, explaining the desire to add fizz to Toro’s offer.

He continued, “And we make sparkling wines in the area, but they are not allowed [to be labelled as DO Toro], so they have to be made as table wines.”

Indeed, he told db that as many as 200,000 bottles of fizz are made in Toro annually, although that’s a small proportion of the region’s 16 million bottle output.

It’s also important to note that Toro’s neighbouring region, Rueda, has made its name for the production of refreshing white wines from the native Verdejo grape. Not only is Ruedo the best-selling white wine region in Spain, but the region also allows the production of traditional-method sparkling wine.

Meanwhile, Toro is also looking to gain authorisation for the use of additional red grapes in the region, augmenting Tinto de Toro and Garnacha with Mencía and Prieto Picudo, two varieties that retain high levels of acidity in hot climates.

“We are looking for new varieties because our region is very dry, and we know our wines are rich in alcohol and poor in acidity; we have to make wines that are more drinkable,” he said.

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