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Toro, Spain

Toro is among Spain’s most respected Denominaciones de Origen (DO); an esteem it shares with its Castilla y Léon counterpart, Ribera del Duero. It is located on the Duero River, which bisects the wine region’s northern half, and its difficult climate fosters robust grapes and, in turn, powerful wines.

Toro was among the first Spanish regions to be granted DO status, which it achieved in 1933. However, considerable suffering during the Spanish Civil War of 1936 to 1939, caused that original DO to become obsolete. The modern DO was declared in 1987.

With an extreme continental climate (cold winters but long, hot summers), temperatures in the DO vary greatly, ranging from -11°C in winter to 37°C in summer. Rainfall is light, around 350mm annually on average. The region receives about 2,600 to 3,000 hours of sunlight per annum. Most of Toro’s vineyards sit between heights of 600 to 800 metres above sea-level.

The red wines of the region are predominantly made 100% of Toro’s Tempranillo grapes (known locally as ‘Tina da Toro’). Rosé wines are made from 50% Tempranillo and 50% Garnacha, meanwhile white wines are made from 100% Verdejo or 100% Malvasía.

Tina da Toro grapes benefit from the difficult climate to blossom into fruit of deep colour and high tannin content. The high daytime temperature, abounding sunlight, and low rainfall lead to potent grapes, which ferment into wines of a very high alcohol content. Local wine laws impose an upper limit of 15%, however in practice most producers try to keep alcohol levels below 13.5% for greater balance.

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Ribera del Duero, Spain

One of eleven ‘quality wine regions’ within Castilla y León (an autonomous community in North Western Spain), Ribera del Duero holds significant prestige throughout the wine world. Evidence of wine-making goes back at least two thousand years, as seen in ancient mosaics and artwork. The region finally became a Denominación de Origen (DO) in 21st July, 1982. In 2012, it became ‘Wine Region of the Year’ according to Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

Ribera del Duero has moderate to low rainfall (450mm/year) and is exposed to fairly extreme climatic conditions. Long, dry summers can reach temperatures of up to 40°C, meanwhile winters are intense with temperatures coming close to freezing. Beyond this, there are daily temperature swings—hot, dry days going into frigid nights—even as the region is all-throughout bathed in plentiful sunlight (over 2,400 hours annually). These unique and demanding conditions impart full-bodied, balanced flavours into grapes ripened in the region; particularly Tempranillo.

Wines produced in Ribera del Duero derive almost exclusively from the black Tempranillo grapes (also called ‘Tinto Fino’ by locals referring to their own fruits). These thick-skinnned grapes hold a relatively neutral flavour profile, making them quite versatile. Wines derived from Tempranillo lend themselves to to wide ranges of food pairings, including savoury vegetables and meats, smokey dishes, corn dishes, pasta with tomato-based sauces, spicy Indian foods and curries, savoury Christmas pastelles, as well as spicy South American dishes such as tacos and chillies.

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La Rioja, Spain

Found in southern Spain, near to the Andarax River as it exits out to sea, is the Rioja region. With its traditional red grape varieties of Tempranillo, Garnacha Tinta, Mazuelo (also known as Cariñena) and Graciano, the relatively small region has made itself world famous. Rioja wine is made from grapes grown in the self-sustaining communities of La Rioja and Navarre, and the Basque province of Álava. As of 2019, there are over six hundred wineries in operation. The wines of Rioja are among the most famous of Spain and centuries of diligence and tradition supports their renown.

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Veneto, Italy

Veneto is the most populous of the Triveneto (Tres Venezie) trio of regions of North East Italy. With annual production totals of approximately 8,500,000 hectolitres, 21% of which being DOC, Veneto is among Italy’s most prolific wine regions and is the biggest DOC producer in Italy. It is home to well-known and well-loved sparkling wines.

The region is protected by the Alps from the harsh northern European climate. The cooler climes of Veneto are well-suited to white varieties.

Continuous high demand for Veneto wines in the European and US markets has encouraged fruitful experimentation by local producers in a multitude of grape types including, Cabernet, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and others.

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Tuscany, Italy

Tuscany is Italy’s third most planted wine region. Throughout the district, which includes such acclaimed vicinities as Chianti and Montalcino, a variety of grapes have come to be grown. International varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon; Cabernet Franc; Chardonnay; Merlot; Pinot Noir; Sauvignon Blanc; and Syrah, however the signature grape of the region is Italy’s own Sangiovese.

The terrain is quite hilly as it gradually undulates toward the Apennine Mountains. The Sangiovese grape performs best under direct sunlight. For this reason, many Tuscan vineyards are located on hillsides, allowing for as much unimpeded light as possible. The higher elevation of most of the vineyards also increases their daily temperature variations, thereby helping the grapes to obtain optimal harmony of sugars, acidity, and aromatics.

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Piedmont, Italy

In North West Italy, at the foot of the Alps, the alluring rolling hills of Piedmont can be found. Vineyards cover a large majority of the land area, especially in Barolo, which is the centre of production for many the world’s most exclusive and age-worthy reds. With a viticulture traced back to the fourteenth century, Piedmont is the source of some of Italy’s most desirable and longest-lived wines.

The region rains throughout the year and has a continental climate with hot, humid summers giving way to autumnal fog before cold winters. The cooling effect of the fog is especially beneficial to the Nebbiolo grape, the signature variety of the region, allowing a prolonged cluster hang time, thereby giving rise to full phenolic balance and ripeness. Nebbiolo produces lightly-colored red wines which can be highly tannic in youth with scents of tar and roses. As they age, the wines take on a trademark brick-orange hue at the rim of the glass, maturing to reveal deeper aromas of violets, wild herbs, cherries, raspberries, truffles, tobacco, and prunes. Nebbiolo wines are designed for aging, and can require several years to balance their complex and interesting characteristics.

Barbera, another grape of the region, is beloved for its characteristic high acidity, low tannin and juicy, red fruit. Wines of Barbera take on herbaceous flavours, with notes of strawberry, vanilla, and dark cherry. It is the most planted grape in Piedmont.

Dolcetto, despite its named meaning ‘the little, sweet one’, does not boast high sugar levels. The grape is often aggressively tannic and fruity, with moderate to low levels of acidity. Dolcetto wines tend toward a dry taste profile, and display primary flavours of plum, blackberry, cocoa, black pepper, and violet.

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Montalcino, Italy

The imposing fortress of Montalcino defines the skyline of this hilltop town. Located in central Italy, in the provence of Siena, Tuscany, Montalcino’s high elevation offers stunning views over the Asso, Ombrone, and Arbia valleys. The town takes its name from the species of local oak that once covered the area. The lower slopes of the Montalcino hill itself are dominated by highly productive vines and olive orchards.

Brunello, or ‘little dark one’, is the local name for Sangiovese—the signature grape of the region. This fruit is fashioned into the world-renowned Brunello di Montalcino wine, considered by many to be among the ‘nobelist’ of the Italian reds. Its ‘little brother’, also 100% Sangiovese, is the younger and bolder Rosso di Montalcino.

To be designated a true Brunello di Montalcino, Sangiovese must be planted no higher than 600 metres and aged a minimum of four years, two of which in oak. Rosso di Montalcino is aged for six months to one year. Careful and skilful oak aging coaxes complex flavours out of these fine wines.

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Rhône Valley, France

Located in southern France, The Rhône wine region (situated in The Rhône Valley) produces numerous wines adhering to various Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) designations. The Rhône is divided into two main sub-regions with distinct vinicultural traditions: Northern Rhône and Southern Rhône.

As with many other French wines, wines from The Rhône feature subtle, balanced, and complex flavours teased from the careful blending of the many grape varieties grown in the region. Noteworthy exceptions however include wines which adhere to the Côte-Rôtie and Cornas appellations, both which must consist almost exclusively of Syrah (the only red grape grown in Northern Rhône). Côte-Rôtie can be blended only with white grapes, so to maintain the already full-bodied tones of Syrah. Cornas must be 100% Syrah.

The Southern Rhône sub-region has a more Mediterranean climate, with milder winters and hotter summers as compared with the North. This alternating weather pattern, along with the geological conditions of Southern Rhône, results in a range of ‘microclimates’, giving rise to a wide diversity of grapes. The Southern Rhône’s most famous red wine is Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a blend of up to thirteen varieties of grape (as permitted by the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC).

For the lover of deep, compound, mosiacs of flavour The Rhône offers much to experience, learn from, and to enjoy.

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