The Lost Vines of Ancient Toro

A look at Spain's viticultural wonder



In the age of mobile phones, CNN and foursquare, the idea of lost tribes and civilizations is something that even the most ardent of National Geographic readers would have trouble believing. Watch Discovery Channel and you’ll see that western civilization has pretty much explored every inch of the earth and the idea of something so pure and untouched in our present day seems the stuff of urban legend; a hoax or a wild fantasy for wealthy explorers with more dollars than sense.

Wine lovers, on the other hand, are prone to lead a life of discovery. With so many regions, each one with an ever-expanding repertoire of fine wines on offer, there are always opportunities for experiencing something new and exciting. Consider Spain, for example, a country with a rich tradition of wine culture, so rich in fact that for decades the Spanish kept many of their finest wines for themselves.

In today's global economy that is becoming ever more difficult, we are fortunate to discover regions like Toro, and grapes like the local Tempranillo, referred to as Tinta de Toro, that produce amazing, unique wines that speak to us of the past, of their place, and of the men and women who work these ancient vines.
The wine-producing region of Toro lies at the western extremity of the Castilla y Leon region in northwest Spain. With a base of sandy loam, rocks and clay, the region is incredibly dry and truly at the limit of what is possible for non-irrigated vines to endure; yet somehow it manages to produce exceptional fruit.

Toro reds are immensely rich, densely concentrated wines made from a single grape variety called Tinta de Toro. Known to the rest of the world as Tempranillo, the Toro version of this grape is actually an extremely rare pre-phylloxera clone specific to this region that has naturally resisted phylloxera for more than 140 years. A lost tribe by wine standards.

The leader and pioneering producer from the region is Bodega Numanthia, an estate founded in 1998 and owner of some of the oldest Tinta de Toro vines in the region. The name associates the towns of Numancia and Tiermes, known in ancient times for their resistance to the Roman invaders. When attacked by the legions of Scipio in 134 BC, their inhabitants resisted heroically, preferring death to surrender.

All of the wines produced by Bodegas Numanthia are sourced from dry-farmed old vines aged 50 to 120 years, whose tiny hand-picked yields are amongst some of the lowest in the world. This tiny output, though, has resulted in the production of three 100% Tinta de Toro wines that go by the names of Termes, Numanthia and Termanthia.

In recent reviews, Bodega Numanthia’s 2007 vintage wines have received scores of 92 points (Termes, $30), 94+ points (Numanthia, $60) and 97+ points (Termanthia, $200) from Jay Miller of The Wine Advocate and are certain to shine a spotlight on this amazing grape. After trying all three, the Numanthia and Termanthia stood out for their complex aromas of dark fruits, chocolate, truffle, mineral and toasted notes. Both had extremely rich concentrated fruit and a silky, velvety mouthfeel. Cellaring of between five and 15 years is definitely recommended for both, especially if you’d like to see these lost vines hidden from the outside world for just that little bit longer.

2007 Bodegas Numanthia Numanthia
Smoky and dark on the nose with notes of grilled nuts, cocoa, vanilla, licorice, charcoal and a touch of tar accenting slightly spicy dark wild black berry fruit. On entry this is surprisingly restrained with tannins that cover the gums but a clear mid-palate that reveals rich earthy raspberry fruit topped with nuanced notes of carob and tobacco. This is still quite young but with air it already reveals fine purity of fruit and balance, though you have to love tannin at this point to appreciate this wine. The finish has fine tannins and brisk acids supporting that earthy, dark raspberry fruit through the moderately long, lightly spice tinged and faintly chocolatey finale. 90pts

2007 Bodegas Numanthia Termanthia
Dark and heavy on the nose, with a sweet layer of caramelly oak and spice that slowly receded to reveal a deep core of spicy, mineral-laden black fruit that’s topped with suggestions of cigar wrapper, tomato leaf and spice cookies. Bright and assertive on entry with the cut of high acid and superbly polished tannins buffered by building layers of silky dark fruit. The tannins come on strong quite quickly, pushing down the black cherry and spice notes on the palate and really constraining the mid-palate. The cherry fruit is quite vivid on the backend and onto the long, elegant finish. The fruit here is surprisingly fresh and aromatic given the sheer power of this wine. This will require significant time in the cellar to blossom, but very well balanced and super fresh with exotic fruit that is waiting to star. 95pts

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