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1998 Bodega Numanthia Termes "Numanthia", Toro, Spain

What is it with scraggly survivor grapes? It seems that the older they get and the more droughts, pestilences, and disasters they have been through, the better wine they make. The way old vines keep working is one of the magic elements of wine for me. I love the notion that I am experiencing the collective history of a particular place.

The vines that produced this wine are old vine Tempranillo, anywhere from 70 to 100 years old, and the hardy survivors of the phyloxerra outbreak in the early part of the century that wiped out most of the grapes in the Toro region of Spain. They sit on the sandy, well drained benches above the south bank of the Duero river at an elevation of 2300 feet.

The Toro region of Spain lies on and around the Duero in the North-central part of the country, very close to the upper right hand corner of where Portugal pokes in. Toro is adjacent to the Rueda region, and is known for its big red wines based on Tempranillo which is locally called Tinto del Toro. The Wine Spectator has called this region "...one of the last unexploited patches of superior grape growing terroir in Europe, with decades-old vines and a mature winemaking culture."

When they say mature, they aren't kidding. Bodega Numanthia Termes, an estate owned by Dominio Eugren (who also owns several other well known Spanish estates), is a family run winery that has been making wine in Spain since the mid 1800's. Bodega Termes has chosen to name this wine and this vineyard site Numanthia, after the local people of Numancia, who in the first century B.C. held off the (grossly larger) invading Roman army for 20 years without being conquered. This perseverance in the face of danger mirrors the survivalist grape vines, and seems a fitting (and pretty cool sounding) name for the wine.

All of the grapes for this wine were hand picked and hand sorted with an exacting level of detail, then lightly crushed in whole clusters. Bodega Termes keeps yields at an incredibly low level, usually around 1.5 tons per acre. After a 28 day maceration (mixing of the skins and the juice after fermentation), this wine undergoes secondary (malolactic) fermentation in new French oak and is aged 19 months. It is bottled without fining or filtration of any sort.

This wine is widely regarded to be one of the top few, if not the best wine made in this appellation. Approximately 300 cases were reserved for importation to the USA.

Tasting Notes:
This wine is a deep ruby in color and rapidly darkens to opaque from the rim of the glass. It has a rich and layered nose filled with aromas of violets, wet chalkboard, black currants graphite, and the slightest hint of cherry. In the mouth it is just as textured, with a mosaic of flavors dominated by black currants and cherries, with elements of licorice and graphite incorporated as the wine finishes. Its tannins are soft and enveloping and really less prevalent than the bright acidity that is surprising considering the depth and richness of the wine. This is the best Spanish wine I have ever had.

Food Pairing:
Tempranillo is a very food friendly varietal even in its most "bordeaux-like" expression in this wine. It will pair with most any meat, and unlike some Cabernets or Merlots, it will stand up to some spice as well. Try it with these portugese sausage sandriches with peppers, onions and olives.

Overall Score: 9.5/10

How Much?: $45 (but prices vary wildly)

I got mine through the online (and local Bay Area) merchant Premier Cru, which last time I checked, still had some left. Scattered bottles are also available at varying prices elsewhere on the Internet.

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud