A strong red from Spain: Numanthia Termes

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By Celia Strong

Numanthia: what a name. At least it’s pronounced just like it’s spelled (New-man-thee-ah). Historically, Numanthia was a town in ancient Spain where the citizens resisted the Romans. For more than 100 years, the Romans tried to occupy this town. And, for that whole time, the citizens resisted, preferring to die than become slaves to the Romans. So, the Romans burned the town.

But, before we go into too much history, the wine of the week is a big, strong red from Spain. We will learn about where the wine is produced, a less known region, called Toro — yes, the same as the name for “bull.”

Spain is the third largest producer of wine, after France and Italy, and the ninth in consumption. There are over 400 grapes grown in Spain, many of them native varieties, but 80 percent of their wines are made from about only 20 varieties. (The main ones are Tempranillo, Albariño, Garnacha, Palomino, Airen, Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel-lo, Cariñena and Monastrell.) There are almost 3 million acres of vines planted in the country, so they do have more vineyards than anyone else.

Our Toro area is a Spanish DO, Denominación de Origen, located in the Zamora province in the region of Castile-Léon, in northwestern Spain.  The Toro includes areas known as Tierra del Vino, Valle del Guereña and Tierra de Toro. There are almost 20,000 acres of vineyards here.

During the Middle Ages, wines from the Toro were drunk all over the country. Their trading was encouraged with “royal privilege.” The ancient Greeks brought winemaking to Toro at the end of the 1st Century BC. Later, King Alphonso IX granted land to several religious orders with the stipulation that they plant vineyards. Normal policy around the world, at the time. The wine trade in Toro was successful and many of the 40 plus churches there today were built by the wealthy wine trade. At the end of the 19th Century, Toro wines were exported to France in large quantities. You might remember, this was the time when phylloxera invaded most of France’s vineyards.  The vines in Toro were safe because the soil there was so sandy and it protected the vines from the phylloxera bugs. (Locals like to claim that their ancestors resisted the Romans and their vines resisted phylloxera.)

Later, the Toro vines were used to replant many of the infected vineyards in Spain. In addition to the sand, the vineyard soil in Toro had clay and lime-bearing puddingstone — a dark topsoil with fine and coarse sands. The Toro climate is continental, long hot summers and cold winters, with light rainfall and above average hours of sunlight every year. Tinto de Toro, a synonym for Tempranillo, and Garnacha are the red varieties allowed in the area, and Verdejo and Malvasia are the whites. The area was officially recognized in 1933, and the Toro DO was established in 1987.

Bodega Numanthia is located in a small village, Valdefinjas, in Zamora. It was founded in 1998 by the Eguren family. From their beginning, Marcos and Miquel Eguren aimed to make the best wine from Toro. The estate owns about 100 acres of vines and roughly half of these are planted with 70 to 100 year old vines. The sandy soil, that was resistant to phylloxera, also allowed vines to grow much older. That means “old vine” here is really, really old. Numanthia actually has about 10 acres where the vines are 120 years old. Yikes!

The vineyards at the estate are laid out in a patchwork of tiny plots. Most of them face south and southwest. The soils are basically sandy gravel over a clay sub-soil. Dry surface with some water retention underneath. Perfect for making the grapes work as they grow. Perfect for great flavors in the finished wine. The grape variety is Tinto de Toro, with vines that average over 50 years old. Their bunches are large, but each berry (grape) is small. They produce deep color and strong tannins, especially when low yields are maintained. The vines are head-trained and dry farmed, with about 10 yards between each vine. That means about 500 vines per acres, a very low number. And, the vines’ roots?  They grow down over 20 feet, struggling to the water in the clay soil. Between the struggle to grow and the maintained low yields, these vines make grapes with exceptional concentration and complexity and structure. Of course, since they are such good grapes, they are all hand-picked, usually between the middle and the end of September.

After harvest, the grapes are fermented and macerated for three to four weeks in stainless steel tanks. The cap, the crust of grape skins and pulp that rises to the top of the tanks during these processes, is punched down and pumped over several times. This adds more flavor and texture to the wines. After maceration, the wines go into new, French barrels. They rest a year, in the first year cellar, go through malo-lactic fermentation, and move on to the second year cellar. After about a year and a half, the wines are racked (rolled of their sediment) and blended. They are bottled the second year after their harvest. They are not fined or filtered in order to preserve their fruitiness and structure.

Numanthia produces three different levels of red wines. Termanthia, the treasure of Toro, is the ultimate version. This wine includes much of the grapes from 120-year-old vines. Numanthia, the bodega’s signature wine, is mid-level.

And, our wine, Termes (tare-mess), is the Toro signature wine. Even this wine has some of the grapes from the 120-year-old vines. Fermentation, with de-stemmed grapes, took eight days, with two punch downs each day, at controlled temperatures. Maceration — time sitting with the skins to pick up more color, flavors and textures — lasted 21 days with light pump-overs. Barrel aging lasted 16 months.

Termes is intense, vibrant and lively. Its color is dark ruby with some purple edges. Its aromas are intense, with raspberry, red currant and cherries, mixed in with violets, lavender, spices and eucalyptus. In your mouth it is full and silky, with an explosion of fruit and a long, persistent finish. Tobacco, raspberries and blackberries linger with you. This wine is 100 percent Tinto de Toro, which means it’s all Tempranillo, but very different from other Tempranillo wines we’ve tasted and talked about. Termes is much fuller, much hardier and heavier. All the little pieces and parts of this DO and this Bodega come together in this bottle — dry growing conditions; lots of sun; not too fertile soil; older, even ancient, vines; fewer vines per acre; controlled yields; hands-on harvest and winemaking; aging. This is sort of a list of how to make a great tasting wine that is perfect for meats, seafood, and poultry.

And, as you would expect, all this is not available without a price that reflects all its pieces and parts. Numanthia Termes is usually about $25, but for us, it’s $19.99. Enjoy.