Toro, Toro, Toro!

Spain Adventure Day Four
Wednesday, June 20th, 2012
Toro on Hill

Toro overlooking the highway

High on a hillside on the road from Madrid to Salamanca stands the silhouette of a giant black bull: this is Toro, who seems to be the mascot of Spain. It is Euro Cup 2012 so we may be seeing more nationalistic fervor than usual, but we're seeing a lot of bulls. To stay with the theme, today we visited the Elias Mora winery near Toro, Spain where they make a bold red wine called Toro.

Vanessa, Karla, and Tinto, the dog

Elias Mora is a woman run operation. Victoria Benavides, is the owner and she and Vanessa Pérez are the winemakers. Vanessa took us out to the vineyard to discuss weather and soil. They grow 25 hectares of grapes themselves and get the rest from farmers around Toro-from a total of 64 plots. Working with 6 different soil types, from clay to very rocky to extremely sandy, they put together their wines. They still have some vines, now 70 to 80 years old, that are pre-Phylloxera rootstock. This is due to the Phylloxera louse's late entry to Spain and the sandy soil, which is inhospitable to the wine louse. They don't irrigate, instead practicing dry farming and planting the vines marco de plantación, 3 to 5 meters apart.

Grapevines growing en vaso

Elias Mora makes three wines: Robles, Crianza, and Gran Elias Mora. Using half American and half French oak, they produce about 200,000 bottles. They buy egg whites from the local bakery for fining. The largest share of their wine, ten per cent, is sold in Switzerland and three to four per cent goes to the United States.

After our tour, we went up to the tasting room where Vanessa shared their 2009 Robles, a 2008 Crianza, and 2007 Gran Elias Mora. We also tried Dulce Benavides, a 2010 sweet red wine an experiment with grapes that dried on the vines in a tricky harvest year.

Vanessa and Victoria suggested that we lunch at a place called El Chivo, The Goat, in the town of Morales de Toro. We walked into this great little restaurant and the host asked us in Spanish if we wanted a menu or something else. We didn't know what the something else was and we did want a menu. We were shown to door number one. Behind the door were seven or eight tables laid out for lunch. When the waitress learned that we were gluten free and didn't speak Spanish well enough to understand her questions, she rolled her eyes and said to everyone in the restaurant that she couldn't believe her luck-or something along those lines. When we didn't understand the menu choices, she marched over, picked up another diners plate and brought it over for use to view.  With that help,  we managed to order our meal, but our server couldn't help groaning each time she approached our table. Itt wasn't bad, but what we realized on our way out that there is a lovely dining room with a very nice server behind the other door and it's a la carte, not a fixed menu!

Zamora Cathedral

San Isidoro with stork nests at the top

Castillo de Zamora


Karla had heard great things about a little town called Zamora and as it was only about 40 minutes away, we decided to go check it out. What a fabulous place! More medieval churches per capita than any place on earth. Twenty-four Romanesque churches built in the 12th and 13th centuries in a town with 66,000 people. We visited the Cathedral with its cloisters and museum-they have beautifully preserved Flemish tapestries of Hannibal's Italy campaign and the life of Tarquin. Then we walked around enjoying the views from the castle, built between the 10th and 12th centuries probably by Fernando I and modified in the late 17th century. Then we started on the churches. Very interesting, but not in a churchy way, is San Isidoro, which has stork nests that we were told can weigh up to 1000 kilos. When we tired of churches, we stopped in at the Zamora Parador and were welcomed warmly by Zacarías Baz Antón. The Spanish government created paradors to use tourism to protect national treasures. Castles, Palaces, Fortresses, Convents, Monasteries and other historic buildings were turned into high end hotels and the project has been a great success. Zacarías told us that when the 15th century palace of the Count of Alba and Aliste was converted to a parador in 1968, there were no other 4 star hotels in Zamora. Now there are four others. The rooms are spacious and comfortable and the views are spectacular.

The ride home was uneventful until we reached the turn to our parking place-police cars blocked the street and a group of protesters was standing right in front of our garage door. It took about an hour and half for the crowd to move on. By then we'd found another place to park and walked back to the hotel.

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