All Red, No Bull. D.O. Toro

Week III (November 25, 26, 27, 2010):

As this is a master of Enoturismo, or Tourism of Wine,  the winery visits are an important component. We made an unscheduled visit to Bodega Fariña in Week II. During the upcoming visits, Esteban will act as our tour guide. Though I do not think he has an official title within the D.O. Tierra del Vino Zamora, he seems to be pretty well ingratiated within the organization, even making the presentation about the D.O. and conducting the tasting in our class. Officially, he is an agronomic engineer who works as a consultant to local wineries. Unofficially, he makes some kick-ass wines.

Before, when I thought of where grapes were grown, I imagined a warm-year-round Mediterranean climate with cypress trees and orange groves as far as the eye could see. Even in Oregon, thousands of miles from Toscana, it is said that grapes flourish in part because of the pockets of Mediterranean micro-climates in the Willamette Valley. Not so. Not at least where I was, three hours west of Madrid and 45 minutes to the Portuguese border. I was about two geographical, climatic zones over from my cypress trees.

Zamora, where we study, is the capital of the Province of Zamora, one of nine provinces that make up Castilla y León. Consisting of 94,223 square kilometers (36, 379 square miles), Castilla y León is the largest autonomously-governed area in Spain and the second largest in Europe. Bound in by mountains on nearly every side (Picos de Europa in the north and Central Sierras in the south and east), the meseta norte, or north plateau as it is called, freezes for eight months a year and then fries through the other four. At its average elevation of 1000 meters (3,280 feet), the vines that grow in this region are some of the most durable, hearty vines that can grow, anywhere. The conditions are about as extreme as a vine can handle. It shows in the wines. The complexity is evident at first whiff and the growers and handlers know what they are doing.

Our minibus outside the cooperativa in Villamor de los Escuderos, actually they were waiting for me and the Brazilian. We had gotten really lost…

The shot below was taken around the vineyards of Viña Escuderos Sociedad Cooperativa, in Villamor de los Escuderos. Notice the ground is frosty. But the sun is shining, as it does every single day. This is still Spain. In fact some people say that as the seasons progress and the grapes wake up and start to bear fruit, the extreme warming and cooling does wonders for the complexity of the wine. The warmth during the day encourages the sugars to multiply while the chill at night encourages the acidity, keeping the sugars in check. While nobody wants a deep freeze in the middle of May when the berries have already come out, the extreme day-to-night-to-day temperatures even into the summer serve the finished product well.

Endless sky over the meseta

Esteban telling us how cold it is. We already know, Esteban. (left)

Actually, I’m quite certain he was explaining something a lot more valuable. Though, it truly was cold and Hu Hao and I were on a mission to find pámpanos, which it turns out is impossible since they do not come out until later in the year.

He was probably explaining the varietals that are allowed to be grown on D.O. Tierra del Vino Zamora soil. I am copying directly from the D.O.’s website, as it is in English,

“After detailed study and classification of all existing Tierra del vino vineyards and depending on the adaptation and representation of each one in relation to the overall, our regulation states the following varieties as the most adapted and representative:       Main:      Red: Tempranillo,   White: Malvasía,  fine grain Moscatel and Verdejo  Authorized:     Red: Garnacha and Cabernet-Sauvignon.     White: Albillo, Palomino and Godello.”

Me, Vanessa, (happy) in the Vines

So Cold!

Frosty vine sleeping

Next stop, the cooperative nave, where the mosto is fermenting. Wineries have this stainless steel walkway over the cubos or depositories to be able to check on the fermentation. Namely they need to watch the racking of the mosto to remove the solids (below)

More etiquetta (label) applying. I am obsessed with how things work. I find the bottling process fascinating. (below)

Tasting (class)room. Just another before-noon tasting. (below)

The cooperative produces three different labels. We tasted the range of Gavión including blanco, rosado, tinto joven, tinto roble, crianza y selección especial. They were all very good, complex wines. Unfortunately, this visit was in the early part of our master, and I was not yet taking notes as I now diligently do.

Our first official tasting

Next we visited with Juan Miguel Fuentes Sardón of Bodegas Teso Blanco in Cabañas de Sayago (Zamora), and the wines we tasted were Brochero joven, Brochero (15 months in oak barrel), Dominio de Sexmil (19 months in new oak barrel). The Dominio de Sexmil is on of the best wines I have ever tasted. I do not know if it was the near-freezing temps inside the “winery” or being surrounded by centuries-old farm equipment, but it was a remarkable wine. The extreme plateau temperatures resonated right through to the last swish in my mouth and I remember thinking, why can’t all wineries have a capacity of 50,00 liters? This was a hand-crafted, artesian wine that tasted like a rich marmalade of dark-berried forest fruits like blueberry, mulberry, loganberry. And because it had spent a whopping 19 months in a new oak barrel, I got a bit of toasted vanilla from the wood in my aftertaste. And, I found it all on my own. For the first time, I liked a wine, and I knew why.  We were supposed to be spitting out the wine. In this case, most of us were looking at each other wondering if Juan would mind if we each poured ourselves another glass.  I do not think he would have, but we did not ask.

Juan Miguel to the far left. Not as chic as the tasting rooms in Napa, but quite charming, and out-of-this-world wine

Farm equipment hanging on the wall

I love this radio. Though I am not sure you could catch a Real-Betis match.

The visits are a great way, and maybe indispensable to us foreigners, in understanding the process. Hu Hao and I had finally solved the mystery of the pámpano (it grows from the sarmiento later in the growing cycle), now I was out to find the sombrero. I could not find it anywhere. I knew sombrero meant hat. I knew it was a word that was repeated over and over in vinification lectures. It was the new pámpano.  But, in this little micro-winery, I could not find anything resembling a hat. Then I saw a metal lid fixed onto one of the mini-depositories. Emboldened by liquid courage, I said to Juan (in Spanish), “Hey, thanks for the tour, is this the sombrero ?”  He looked confused. It was about the most out-of-context thing I could have said. I tried briefly to explain. I do not know what he thought, maybe that I was trying to sell him a hat. I ran away.

My lovely Spanish friend Natalia clarified: the sombrero is the name given to the thick layer of solid materials that float on top of the juice as the fermentation progresses. You cannot, for example, pick it up and wear it like a springbreaker in Cancun. Now I know.

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