Toro, DO and Bodegas Numanthia

It’s a rainy Monday morning. In lieu of the grind, would you fancy taking a virtual whirlwind visit to the wine region of Toro, Spain, along with sampling slivers of melt-in-your-mouth Pata Negra, Spanish cheese, and then, topping off your experience with some of your favorite champers? Um, hello, happy Monday to me…

A little bit about Toro, DO

Toro is a Spanish Denominación de Origen (DO) created in 1987 for wines in the province of Zamora, which is in the northwest of Castilla y Léon, and west of Ribera del Duero. The sandy soils of this DO protected many vines from the phylloxera crisis of the 19th century, which decimated most of the vines of Europe. (Phylloxera is pest which feeds on the roots of grapevines.) As a result, Toro still has a number of very old vineyards with pre-phylloxera Tinta de Toro, which is the primary grape of this region. Although Tinta de Toro and Tempranillo are used by most interchangeably, Tinta de Toro is considered to be an acclimatized clone of Tempranillo. Of the 19,800 acres (8,000 HA) planted in Toro, only 13,500 acres (5,500 HA) are allowed to be used in the production of these wines. Interestingly, about half of the grapes used in the production of Toro (2,500HA) are still from pre-phylloxera rootstocks, with the residual vines grafted onto more resistant rootstocks.

The temperatures of this region vary greatly, ranging from 98.6°F (37°C) in the summer to 12°F (-11°C) in the winter. Temperatures can change drastically from day to night (diurnal temperature), varying from 98.6-68°F (37-20°C) in the summer. If not monitored carefully, the extreme heat can result in very high levels of alcohol. The DO allows up to 15% alcohol levels, but expect levels around 13.5%. With these climatic extremes, extraction must be precise, otherwise the results are wines with overpowering tannins and super high alcohol content. Permitted varietals include Tinta de Toro/Tempranillo, Garnacha/Grenache, White Verdejo and Malavasia.

Bodegas Numanthia

Bodegas Numanthia exudes the true potential of what Toro wines have to offer. The estate was founded in 1998 by the Eguren family and is now run under the direction of Manuel Louzada. I was able to spend some time with Manuel and learn more about these wines and the region.

“Numancia is the name of an ancient Spanish city that resisted Roman occupancy for over a hundred years. The city stood for its tenacity and resistance,” stated Manuel. Rather than relinquish control of their beloved city and become enslaved by the Romans, the inhabitants of Numancia preferred to die than to surrender, so they burned down their entire city. He added, “We named our wines after these cities as a tribute to their tenacity and the ability of the vines to survive the extreme local climatic conditions and phylloxera… Like Numancia, when I first visited the vineyards in Toro, I was totally impressed to see these ancient vineyards [that were] over a hundred years old, [had] resisted the Phylloxera and, year after year, [had] struggled with the extreme natural conditions of the region (limited rainfall without irrigation, extreme temperatures and very poor soils) to deliver a very, very low yield yet with incredible concentration and magnificent expression. And then I tasted Tinta de Toro wines: the beautiful dark purple color, the richness and the complexity in the nose and finally, the natural sweetness, the creaminess and density in the middle palate and the enormous tannic structure, yet with the elegance of the perfect ripeness… I fell in love with Numanthia and when I was offered to come from Argentina and take care of the winery I, of course, said  ‘yes’.”

With the bold tannins of Tinta de Toro, these are wines to enjoy (in some instances) 20-30 years from now. Manuel added, “I have been in this business since I was 4 years old and I am now 40 years old. What I have learned is that wine must generate pleasure and emotions from the beginning. We tell our people, the goal here is to make one of the best wines in the world.”

“The berries are like little bombs of flavor. Harvesting, selecting the grapes and crushing must be precise. We hand harvest and hand de-stem. We also do fruit crushing.” Side note: For those who get a quick visual of “I Love Lucy” in Italy crushing grapes… It is by far more hygienic. The workers wear neoprene boots and pants. Manuel continued, “In the case of Termanthia, these grapes come from our vineyard Teso Los Carriles where the age of the vineyards is between 120 and 140 years old. The grapes at the winery are selected and de-stemmed by hand, taken into oak vats of 800 and 1,600 Kg and then crushed by feet (“pigeage” by feet) twice a day during 8 to 10 days (duration of the cold maceration). It takes around 45 minutes to submerge the skins in the must.” (Must is freshly pressed juice that contains the skins, seeds, and stems of the fruit.)

2007 Vintage:

For many vineyards in Europe, 2007 was plagued with a deluge of rain. For the Toro region, because Tempranillo is harvested early (“temprano” means “early” in Spanish), the grapes were saved from the onslaught of rain and the 2007 vintage resulted in very elegant wine.

The Wines:

all 100% Tinta de Toro
2007 Termes – click here to purchase: WS 88, $23, vines are 30-50 years old; lively, nice plummy fruit, tobacco, sandalwood and cinnamon; I truly enjoyed this and thought it was a great price point.

2007 Numanthia: WS 92, $50, vines are 50-120 years old; blackberries, cassis, currants, pencil shavings and black pepper; I’d let this one age a bit. I’d love to try it in a few years.

2006 Termanthia – click here to purchase: ST94/WS 95, $140, vines are 120-140 years old; currants and wood, with some balsamic, sandalwood and truffle notes; intense and long finish. I’d age this one as well.

The Northern Rhône – E. Guigal

E. Guigal

Ampuis, Côte-Rôtie
“In certain magical places, dreams can sometimes become reality.”

With an annual production of 6 million bottles, a cellar with wines dating back to 1946 and a proud family legacy, this is one of the behemoths of wine production in the Rhône Valley, and therefore, a great place to get a solid lay of the land. E. Guigal is currently run by father-son team Marcel and Philippe Guigal.

Cave Guigal
Cave Guigal

Stéphane Croxet, who runs the export department of Guigal, graciously offered to give us a tour in either English or French. Since I am married to a Frenchie, my French has improved tremendously over the past few years, but I am not there yet with complete fluency, especially incorporating technical jargon and the velocity of speech. I was grateful for his lingual dexterity and the thoroughness of his explanation of the wine making process at Guigal.

In the Northern Rhône, Guigal acts as both producer and negociant. However, in the Southern Rhône, Guigal acts exclusively as negociant. Negociants make the wine, but purchase the grapes from growers. Even though they don’t technically farm these grapes, negociants are heavily involved in the viticulture. As with a talented chef, most wine makers are super control freaks with their craft. I can relate to this. In fact, I embrace and salute the control freaks among us. Just try to be in the kitchen with me when I am cooking – things have to be done a certain way and in a certain order, with certain ingredients – I get it.

Guigal runs a tight ship, so it was of no surprise to me that their capacity as negociant follows suit. They are involved in the entire viticulture process – from the growth to selecting the day of harvest. Growers know that grapes will not officially be accepted until they arrive for vinification and have been tested personally by Guigal. This family has earned the respect of the growers and is well regarded by their peers. For Guigal, reputation is paramount to all. Business with Guigal is still done to this day by hand shake. As Stéphane explained, “We give our word and for us it’s equivalent to a written contract. It’s worked liked that since the beginning (3 generations).”

Although, Guigal has the right to reject the grapes, it is a rare occurrence since Guigal has worked with these producers for many years, every step of the way in the viticulture process. In tandem, the respect for the relationship and time spent nurturing the vines is reciprocated by Guigal. Stéphane conveyed, “It’s only right that we respect the time and passion that they have put into harvesting the grapes for us. This courtesy needs to be extended to them as well.” Guigal has 2 back-up control methods in place for the machinery to ensure that grapes are received and processed ASAP to avoid wasting precious time. As in the case with some of the grapes for the production of their Châteauneuf-du-Pape, these growers travel for several hours from the Southern Rhône, so the back-up controls are critical to guarantee expeditious receipt of the grapes.


For red wines, to extract as much color and tannins from the skins as possible, wines are either produced by remontage/pumping over or punching down. Remontage/pumping over draws wine from the bottom of the vat and then pumps it to the top. This helps to break up the crust of skins, pips. etc. (often referred to as the châpeau) which forms at the top. Punching down is the process of literally punching down the skins and pips with devices such as paddles or rakes to extract color and tannins. In the secondary/malolactic fermentation, the liquid from the châpeau is added.

Guigal uses both large and small barrels for aging, with the large barrels used for red wines and small barrels for white wines. Red wine typically has enough tannins already, so the larger barrels are used as there is less surface area of contact by volume. Since 2003, Guigal has manufactured smaller barrels at a cooperage using hand selected French oak. Costly and precious new oak is saved for their absolute best wines. The Viognier for their Condrieu spends about 9 months on the oak, whereas the Syrah for their Côte-Rôtie can spend as long as 42 months. Typically, they use their barrels for up to 20-25 years and then send them to Scotland for the aging process of Scotch.


Of the 6 million bottles produced annually by Guigal, half of their production is exported, of which, half of that goes to the United States. For Guigal, the U.S. market seems to prefer Châteauneuf-du-Pape. I am going to speculate on this, but one would have to think the heavy demand for Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the U.S. is driven by its favor among many influential wine critics. If you fell into the aforementioned population, I highly recommend branching out. Be zany. Mix it up. Try the Côte-Rôtie. Or throw in a real thought provoker – the Condrieu. You’ll be glad you tried something new.

Tasting Notes:

Prices indicated below are the cost at the vineyard and are not inclusive of import fees, taxes, shipping etc. I’ve noted wines in which Guigal both grows the grapes and produces the wine (Domaine). Unless noted, Guigal acts in the negociant capacity.

  • 2007 Condrieu (100% Viognier; 9 months fermentation, 1/3 oak, 2/3 stainless steel; sand and granite soil; 30 year old vines; ST 90/WS 91, $51): white peaches, lychees, figs; nice minerality, lovely lingering finish; 13% alcohol
  • 2007 Crozes-Hermitage Blanc (95% Marsanne, 5% Roussanne; 12 months partially in oak; clay, silt, sand and gravel soil; 25 year old vines; 6.95€): commented to us 2007 is better than 2006; ripe apples, acacia honey: lingering finish; 13% alcohol
  • 2008 Condrieu “La Doriane” DOMAINE (100% Viognier; 9 months in 100% new barrels; shale and silicone soil; 35 year old vines, 35.74€): elegant, white peaches, violets, white flowers; acidity balances the alcohol nicely; minerality sneaks up on your palate (in a good way); 13.5% alcohol
  • 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (80% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 5% Mourverde; 45 year old vines; 20.22€): obviously 2005 was a very good vintage for all and this one can age nicely; red cherries, vanilla, chocolate, coffee; still a little chewy
  • 2005 Côte-Rôtie “Brune & Blonde de Guigal” (96% Syrah, 4% Viognier;  2 years in oak barrels, second time barrel was used; Brune – iron oxide rich soil, Blonde – silicone and limestone soil; 35 year old vines, 28.25€): elegant, well rounded, not quite ripe cherries, vegetal, black pepper; will age well, nicely integrated
  • 2003 Hermitage Rouge (100% Syrah; aged in oak for 2 years, 2nd time oak used; limestone and clay soil, 40 year old vines; 38.36€): stewed strawberries, white pepper, licorice
  • 2004 Côte-Rôtie Chateau d’Ampuis DOMAINE (95% Syrah, 5% Viognier; 38 months in new oak; 6 terroirs; 50 year old vines; ST 93/WS 92, $177) dark cherries, leather, pain grillé, slight vegetal tone; drink now, but can age
  • 2005 La Turque DOMAINE (93% Syrah, 7% Viognier; 42 months in new oak, single parcel; 15 year old vines; ST 96/100 RP, $449): They were generous enough to let us taste one of the beloved and famous “La Las” – La Landonne, La Mouline and La Turque. Stéphane conveyed that they sell out right away on the release date (1 February). With a cult-like following, the futures market on this stuff is insane. Figs, dark cocoa, white pepper, tannins – still a little chewy – will age beautifully.

What did we buy, why and what would I pair with it?

  • 2007 Condrieu – I am infatuated with Condrieu – maybe even obsessed. Viognier can be a high maintenance grape, and this trickles down to the end cost. I loved the minerality, elegance and perfume of this one. I thought the price point couldn’t be beat. I’d have it as “apero” (tribute to my family in the south of France), with simply prepared and not too pungent seafood (ex. butter poached lobster, grilled whole fish such as a sea bass) or goat cheese. I am partial to cow’s milk cheese, so I think it would also be unbelievable with a goat cheese blend such as La Tur. The food should be simple and not complete with the perfume of this wine. I’d consume it within the next few years.
  • For the Côte-Rôties below, I’d love to have either one of these with a grass fed, succulent steak cooked medium rare (because that’s how I like it), a great burger, something gamey like duck, a crystalized, aged cheese such as Gouda or a pungent cheese like Epoisses.

  • 2004 Côte-Rôtie Chateau d’Ampuis – The priciest that we purchased from Guigal, we were able to benefit from the velvety integration which only comes with age. It continues to have fabulous aging potential and a complexity to match. We’re storing some of these, but drinking some too. I think it will continue to evolve for the next 10 years.
  • 2005 Côte-Rôtie “Brune & Blonde de Guigal” – A great year, a great wine and a great bang for the buck. This has some fantastic aging potential and depth. I loved the finish. I’d drink now, but it could also continue to age for the next 10 years.