Bodegas Fariña, Toro (Spain), Malvasia “Dama de Toro” 2010 (Specialty Cellars, $11): I love the red Tempranillo-based reds of the Bodegas Fariña winery in the Toro district of northern Spain. That’s doesn’t surprise me, given that Toro is a gifted growing area for the variant of Tempranillo that’s locally called Tinta de Toro, and that Bodegas Fariña is one of the pioneers in the district. What is surprising is this white wine, made by a red wine specialist in a red-wine production zone. It is a splendid wine in its own right and all the more so in the context of the Toro district.
Fellow Wine Review Online columnist Ed McCarthy wrote about Toro and Bodegas Fariña recently, and you can find his article in the archives of this site. What’s relevant here is that the hot, dry Toro district, characterized by very old, bush-shaped vines, is overwhelmingly a red wine zone. Only five to seven percent of the area’s production is white wine. And yet this area can make this very distinctive white wine that is also very affordable.
The white Malvasia grape is a traditional variety in Toro -- Malvasia is one of the few white grape varieties that can grow in very warm regions -- but many of the old Malvasia vines have been replaced by Tinta de Toro vines. Manuel Fariña convinced some farmers with the best sites for Malvasia to continue growing this vine, by promising to purchase all their fruit. He has been buying Malvasia grapes from these same families since the 1980s, and the vines are now about 120 years old. In addition, Fariña has planted 74 acres of Malvasia vines on his own property. His Malvasia wine currently represents only about ten percent of his production.
Malvasia is an “aromatic” white variety, meaning that, like Riesling and Muscat, for example, it is naturally rich in aroma and flavor. The styles of wine made from the Malvasia grape in Europe run the gamut from dry to very sweet, depending on where the grapes grow and how they are handled. A couple of decades ago, Manuel Fariña began experimenting with modern winemaking techniques to accentuate the freshness of the fruit and make a less heavy wine. He has made Mavasia in its current style -- a dry but rich, flavorful white -- since 1990.
Although this 2010 Dama de Toro Malvasia is a dry wine, (it has only three grams per liter residual sugar), its full body, ripeness of fruit and moderate acidity create an impression of softness and richness. When you taste the wine cold, you might notice the slightest prickle on your tongue due to some CO2 trapped in the wine during its cold finishing processes, and this prickle does gives the wine some liveliness and edginess -- but the wine is all about richness and flavor rather than crispness. Its aroma suggests green apple and a rosy, floral note. In your mouth, the flavor intensity hits: ripe apple, peach, citrus, a honeyed floral note, a broad earthy mineral character. The wine has weight, presence and a silky texture. Its long finish speaks of concentrated fruit character -- the ultimate indication of its quality.
This wine is terrific with soft white cheeses, roast chicken, grilled sausages, and fatty fish. It’s also great on its own. Drink it now or within a year or two. I like to serve it very cold.