With its location atop the ridgeline over the Río Duero, Zamora is the perfect staging ground for quick visits to three of Spain’s major wine districts. Most wineries ask that you arrange visits in advance, but some permit drop-ins.
The closest district, D.O. Toro, is centered on the medieval city of Toro, a 40-minute drive east of Zamora on the A-11. In addition to warfare and religious conversion, the Castilian kings employed the persuasive properties of wine to take back Iberia from the Moors, then claimed the reconquered turf around Toro by planting vineyards. Building on those first 11th-century plantings, Toro has become the heart of its own D.O. wine district, source of some powerful red wines. Ever since scientific winemakers in the 1980s began to tame the powerful tinto de Toro grape (an ancient strain of Tempranillo), the biggest names in Spanish viticulture have flocked here to establish vineyards. On the way to Toro (actually, on its western outskirts), Bodega Valbusenda (Carretera de Toro a Peleagonzalo) offers tastings and winery tours as part of a wine resort complex. Downtown Toro’s single main street is lined with shops offering free tastings and selling the local wines—so many that if you’re not careful, you’ll be woozy by the time you get to the 13th-century Colegiata church, officially Santa María la Mayor, on Plaza Santa María (tel. 98-069-03-88; summer Tues–Sun 10:30am–2pm and 5–7:30pm, winter Tues–Sun 10am–2pm and 4:30–6:30pm). Note that you enter the church from the rear (€4 admission except during Mass), mostly because the main entrance, the Pórtico de la Majestad (Portal of Majesty), is one of Spain’s most magnificent examples of Gothic stone carving; you have to go through the church and back out to view it. The carved figures of the Last Judgment—all still painted in sun-blasted pastels—reveal something of the carver’s theology: First to be saved, even before the Virgins and the Martyrs, are the musicians. If you want to visit area wineries, inquire at the D.O. Viños de Toro office at Calle Isaías Carrasco, 4 (tel. 98-069-03-05), for a list with addresses and contact information.
A half hour east of Toro on the A-11 and A-6, the village of Rueda is headquarters for D.O. Rueda, home some of the best white wines in Spain. Two grapes are especially important here: verdejo and sauvignon blanc. Some cellars in town date from the 12th century, but in the late 1970s, rediscovery of the verdejo grape and the introduction of controlled cold fermentation rocketed Rueda’s whites to world-class status. Sauvignon blanc was reintroduced to the area by Rioja growers late in the 20th century—ironic, considering that genetic sleuthing suggests the grape may have originated here before it was taken to France. Several bodegas have shops along the main street of Rueda, but to get a more complete picture of the town’s historic winemaking, reserve ahead to visit Bodegas Antaño Mocén, Calle Arribas, 7–9 (tel. 983-86-85-33). Its 400- to 500-year-old cellars stretch 2.5 miles (4km) underground; the winery, however, is a model of stainless-steel tanks and computerized controls. The on-site shop does a tasting (€15 Mon–Sat) of wines ranging from fresh young whites to elegant verdejos aged in French and American oak.
About an hour further east along the Río Duero (take the scenic CL-610, CL-600, and N-122), Peñafiel is the de facto capital of the D.O. Ribera del Duero. Since the turn of the 21st century, the region has rivaled—some say surpassed—D.O. Rioja as the source of Spain’s best red wines. Small outlets for major producers abound; the tourist office at Plaza San Miguel de Reoyo, 2 (tel. 98-388-17-15), sells a “wine pass” for €5 that opens the doors for winery visits at more than a dozen bodegas in the area. The remarkable Peñafiel castle—which looks like a great ark marooned on a hilltop—is home to the Museo Provincial del Vino (tel. 98-388-11-99; admission with wine tasting €10), which recounts wine history, winemaking techniques, and the finer points of appreciating local wines. Signage is in Spanish, but a headset CD player provides English commentary.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.