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.

Ribera del Duero: “Life is too Short to Drink Bad Wine”

Ribera del Duero Grand tasting, New York February 23, 2010

With two ballrooms full of purple stained teeth as far as the eye could see, I set out to taste some of the beautiful wines of Ribera del Duero at the recent Grand Tasting event in New York. At my count, there were 85 Vineyards represented, with each showing multiple wines. In addition to the sheer volume of vineyards present and wines being poured, Ribera del Duero wines are big, and it’s easy to quickly fall prey to palate fatigue. It’s too bad I had to break up my tastings with a little bit of lomo, Spanish cheese and Spanish almonds.

A Primer on Ribera del Duero

SpainBefore we go into the goods, I always think it is a good idea to know what we’re tasting. Ribera del Duero is located in Spain’s northern plateau. It’s not too far from Madrid. Ribera literally means “river bank” and runs horizontal to the Duero River Valley, hence the name. The soils range from alluvial with sand (closer to the river) to alternating layers of limestone, marl and chalk (at the higher elevations, some vineyards are as high as 3,100 feet above sea level). The region has very hot summers with cold winters, which benefit the grapes.

Varietal: Tempranillo is the primary varietal used for Ribera del Duero. Tempranillo ripens early (temprano means “early”). Sometimes, it is known as Tinto Fino or Tinta del Pais. With Tempranillo, expect flavors such as black plums, cherries and licorice.

Ribera del Duero is a D.O. (Denominación de Origen). This means wine laws highly regulate the density, yields, pruning, alcohol levels and labeling. Expect a certain level of quality similar to that of A.O.C. regulated wines in France.

Critical vocabulary for this region: How can you tell how old the wine is?

  • Joven – Joven literally means “young.” It is wine, which may or may not have spent time in a cask and it is bottled in the year following the vintage, for immediate release.
  • Crianza – These wines must have aged for at least 2 years, with a minimum of six months of that time spent in casks.
  • Reserva – Typically from better vintages, these wines are aged for three years, with a minimum of one year of that time in casks.
  • Gran Riserva – Wines of exceptional vintages, Gran Riserva wines are aged for five years, with at least two years of that time in oak, followed by bottle aging.

Drum roll please… here were some of my faves…

Bodegas Félix Callejo, S.A.

This was one of my absolute favorite finds at the event, with some of the Crianza wines getting 92/93 ratings in the past with a low $20 handle. I spent some time with Cristina Callejo Calvo, their Export Manager and member of the family. Cristina shared that their goal is to “bring out the individual character of their vineyards, with the highest regard for terroir.” All of their wines listed below are 100% Tempranillo.

2004 Gran Callejo Gran Riserva: Wine Advocate 90, $75, cherries, cardoman, some coffee at the end
2005 Félix Callejo Selección de Viñedos de la Familia: RP 97+, $115, The song “Lilac Wine” came to mind as I tasted lilac with some dark chocolate after notes. This was really tasty and elegant stuff.
2006 Callejo Riserva: RP 91, $45, cherries, coffee, elegant. I really enjoyed.
2007 Callejo Crianza: WS 94, $30, cherries with some caramel, tannins and ripe fruit

Finca Torremilanos, Bodegas Peñalba López S.L.*

With dancing eyes and boundless enthusiasm for life, Ricardo Peñalba, head winemaker for Peñalba López shared, “Life is too short to drink bad wine.” When we spoke about their viticulture practices, he said “I have all of these hippies from France come to work the vineyards.” Peñalba López is adamant about being organic and they are experimenting with being biodynamic. Paramount to all, they want to ensure that the terroir is reflected. “If I add yeast – then why be organic? Yeast interferes. Terroir is the most important thing. It is about the soil, the grapes, the region. I can’t stand it when people get too technical. One of the best architects I know shared the wisdom of his 85-year-old father with me. ‘I know three things that can ruin you in life (1) women – that’s the most pleasant of the 3, (2) gambling – that’s the most fun and (3) getting too technical.'”

2005 Torremilanos Crianza: (90% Tempranillo, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot) ST 90, $30, blackberries, dried fruit, herbal undertones
2005 Torre Albeniz Reserva – click here to purchase: (97% Tempranillo, 3% Albillo) ST 92/WS 91, $50, tangy, silky, spicy, with currants with some cinnamon. (Named after Ricardo Peñalba’s mother.)
2006 Cyclo – click here to purchase: (90% Tempranillo, 5% Gamacha Tinta, 5% Albillo) ST 91, $50 cherry coke and fresh pepper (This was Ricardo Peñalba’s current favorite.)

Bodegas Condado de Haza, S.L.

2001 Alenza Gran Riserva: (100% Tempranillo) WS 92, $100, Named after the winemaker’s wife, and produced from their riper vintages. This was such a treasure.

Bodegas Los Astrales, S.L.

2006 Astrales – click here to purchase: (100% Tempranillo) ST 91/WS 92, $50, silky, spicy with some floral, blood orange and wild herb notes; Burgundy-like

Bodegas Arrocal, S.L.

2005 Máximo de Arrocal Gran Riserva: (100% Tempranillo) 93 ST, $100, Needs to breathe a bit, but for the Bordeaux lovers, this one will appeal.
2009 Rosa de Arrocal: (50% Tempranillo, 50% Albillo) $8, A nice rosé, with lots of strawberries. Perfect for a hot summer night.

Bodegas Emilio Moro, S.L.

2005 Bodegas Emilio Moro Malleolus de Valderramiro Ribera del Duero – click here to purchase: ST 94/WS 93, $168, dark berries with exotic spices from the east, tasty
2005 Bodegas Emilio Moro Malleolus Ribera del Duero – click here to purchase :ST 92+/WS 90, $62, raspberries and blackberries with some espresso
2005 Bodegas Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero – click here to purchase: ST 90/WS 92, $29, cherries with bitter chocolate
2006 Bodegas Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero – click here to purchase: ST 92/RP 92, $22

Viña Arnaiz, S.A.

2004 Viña Arnaiz Crianza – click here to purchase: ST 88/RP 89, sexy cherry coke

Foodie Treats

I have to give a shout out to Despaña, a specialty Spanish food store in New York. I love this place! They were present at the event with plenty of lomo to go around. As I said before, give me a plate of Pata Negra (Jamón Ibérico) and lomo, along with a great Rioja or Ribera del Duero, and I could be 100% content to watch the world go by.

* Mr. Peñalba prefers the name of the Estate precede the name of the producer.

Photo provided by Mathias Berenger.

Treats to Blast that Funkytown Feel

I thought about posting this piece right before the holidays as a gift guide, but I decided it would be better to hold off until January. I live in New York, and it has been bloody cold and nasty. A recent NY Times article, Feeling that Winter Cold? Here’s Why by Stephen Chang, stated that the extreme cold weather we’ve been facing is the result of “Arctic oscillation, in which opposing atmospheric pressure patterns at the top of the planet occasionally shift back and forth, affecting weather across much of the Northern Hemisphere.” This high pressure system “is more pronounced than any other time since 1950.” Brrrrrrr….

What does that mean? (1) It takes a lot more motivation to leave the house. (2) Many have that funkytown/winter blues thing going on. This piece includes a variety of treats to buy for yourself to consume today or, in some instances, age. It can also be used as a gift guide for something a little unique. Or, if you want to have a party at your own house, here are some suggestions on ways to mix it up.

Since I am in the business, I have the luxury to taste a broad spectrum of wines and spirits. This list was inspired by some of the wines and spirits I tasted in preparation for my WSET Advanced Exam and from the 2009 New York Wine Experience. I deliberately excluded wines from the U.S. and many of my “go-tos” (Burgundy, Willamette Valley, Ribera del Duero, Rioja…) because we all need to try new things.

Some of the wines below include hyperlinks for direct purchase from Wine Access (WA), with whom I have a relationship.



Bowmare Single Malt 12-year-old Scotch: $40, peat, sea salt, vegetal (40% alcohol by volume)

Boulard X.O. Calvados (Pays d’Auge): $86, spicy apple (40% alcohol by volume)

Calvados is an apple brandy from Normandy and Brittany (France). “While there are 11 distinct producing regions within the appellation of Calvados, the best comes from the Pays d’Auge.” (source “Exploring the World of Wines and Spirits,” Christopher Felden in association with WSET) There are 4 grades of Calvados: Fine/Trois Étoilles (>2 years old), Vieux Réserve (>3 years old), V.O./Vieille Réserve (>4years old) and X.O./Napoléon (>6years old). Use as an aperitif, digestif, in between meals or maybe with espresso.

1997 Rhum J.M. Vieux (Martinique): $90, pronounced caramel and raisins; dry, luxurious (48% alcohol by volume)

Martell X.O. Extra Fine Cognac: $120, pronounced caramel, sweet and spicy raisins (40% alcohol by volume)


2007 Schloss Wallhäusen “Two Princes” Riesling Qualitätswein (Nahe, Germany): $13, honey, peaches, apricots and citrus flavors; dry minerality

2006 Rocky Gully Dry Riesling (Frankland River, Western Australia): $18, gooseberry, quince, stone

2007 Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben, Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese (Mosel, Germany): WS 92, $28, perfume, floral, orange blossom


2007 Domaine des Forges Chaume: WS 93, $26 for 500mL, sweet, round and lush

Chaume is a village located in the western part of the Coteaux du Layon in the Loire Valley. It consists of 100% Chenin Blanc and the grapes are affected by noble rot/botrytis. (Sauternes and Tokaji Aszú are also impacted by noble rot, resulting in those luscious, honeyed flavors.)

2005 Domaine du Closel “Clos du Papillon” Savonnières: $35, honeysuckle, white peaches. Keep in mind it’s 14.5% alcohol by volume

Savonnières is a wine appellation in the Anjou region of the Loire Valley. The wine is 100% Chenin Blanc. Late harvest grapes can formulate into honeyed and smoky-mineral flavors. A good Savonnières  and cheese would be so amazing.


2000 Aszú, The Royal Tokaji Wine Company 6 Puttonyos Betsek:– fig, flan

I wasn’t able to track down a 2000, but the 1999 Royal Tokaji Wine Co. Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos Betsek (500 ml) ($99, WS 94) was not shabby.

Tokaji (Tokay) is a town in Hungary. Wines are made with Furmint and/or Hárslevelü grapes. Aszú means nobly rotted/botrytised grapes (similar process Sauternes and Chaume go through).


I refrained from doing some of my favorites such as Burgundy, Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Côte Rotie, Condrieu – I really could on forever here…  (although I tried the 1999 Ribera del Duero “Unico” Gran Riserva, Bodegas Vega Sicilia at the Wine Experience and the song from the Partridge Family, “I think I love you” started to play in my head immediately.) I felt I had to include some wines from Bordeaux, the Southern Rhône and Champagne because these are always crowd pleasers for gifts – and this is a treat segment after all.


2003 Pauillac, Château Pichon-Longueville Baron: ST 93/WS 95 (ranked #33 in WS top 100 list 2006), Bottle: $117 or Magnum: $200; beautiful ripe fruit and berries with that classic Left Bank hint of pencil shavings; smooth and lush

2000 Saint-Julien, Château Léoville Barton: ST 94/WS 97, Bottle: $199 or Magnum: $349 cherries, pencil shavings, spices… absolutely seamless. And oh – how it lingered.

And a few from Bordeaux for the super fancy people out there or maybe for that corporate account that just never seems to be happy, no matter what you do…

2001 Saint-Emilion, Château Cheval Blanc: ST 92-95/WS 924, $347, Power and elegance all in one package; raspberries, pencil shavings, bitter cocoa, a nice one to age

1998 Château d’Yquem Sauternes: ST 95/RP 95, Magnum: $500, Extraordinary. I came back for more three times at the Wine Experience. Orange peel, honey, creamy, perfection, bliss


2007 Chåteauneuf-du-Pape “La Crau,” Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe: ST 93/WS 95;  500mL: $35, Bottle: $69 or Magnum: $145, smoky cherries, tobacco and licorice


Bollinger Brut “Special Cuvée” Bottle: $75 or Magnum: $168, ST 91/WS 91, dominated by Pinot Noir (60%), nuttiness, ginger, spiced pears, toasty; will continue to get better over time

Krug Brut Champagne Grande Cuvée NV: ST 95/WS 93 $167, so lovely, so delish, an experience, like a scrumptious brioche with a hint of nutmeg

So there you go… Here’s a way to get out of funkytown.

Please note the following:

  • Wine prices are dynamic and therefore, subject to change. Prices are in competition via various vendors WA uses. The prices listed in the article are as of 1/15/10.
  • When indicated, ratings from ST came from WA and ratings from WS came from WS, which may result in some disparity between what WA lists for WS when you click on the link to purchase.


Une petite pause entre deux articles sur le vin…

June 2009


Face OffPaseso de la Castellana 57
With 2 Michelin stars and worth every sparkle, this restaurant is for your fancy, blow-the-bank night in Madrid. They do DE-lish with seafood and tend to showcase their amazing Spanish almonds whenever they can. We had Cigal lobster with soft almonds in almond milk and basil – and then – Pagra fish over white asparagus and parsley butter. Although I knew it before, fish and butter are BFFs. And – It would be an absolute sin to not save room for some cheese from their impressive collection.

CJDT Julian De Tolosa

C/ Cava Baja, 18
This is the best steak I have ever had in my life. Period. It wasn’t on our initial list and you won’t find it in many guidebooks, but we happened upon it as we were walking around. It triggered good food memories for my husband from his previous Madrid life. Budget for what you’d think a typical steak dinner would cost. This steak would be on my Fed-ex list.

Ribeira Do Mino

C/Santa Brigida, 1
For 31 Euros, you can get a platter full of seafood to share for two people, but I really think it could feed a family of four. It’s plain and simple, with the same fish nets on the wall that were there at least 15 years ago when my husband first found this local gem. It won’t rock your world for decor, but who cares. The food certainly won’t disappoint and it is a favorite of locals. When we mentioned this restaurant and Santceloni to the concierge at the hotel as the two places we had reservations during our stay, he smiled at the contrast in our selections. Instantaneously, we shared that foodie bond. He knew we were not messing around.

El Sobrino de Botin

C/Cuchilleros, 17
What can I say? People in Madrid are very proud of their suckling pig. If it’s on your to-do list, this would be the place to do it. Tourists are everywhere here, but locals are too.

Mercado San Miquel

OlePlaza de San Miquel, Los Austrias
Dean and Delucaish in feel, this is a beautiful mercado to grab a glass of wine from one vendor, a few slices of melt-in-your-mouth lomo and/or pata negra from another vendor and scrumptious cheeses from yet another vendor. Conveniently located, it was an ideal place for a light lunch or snack.

Also – Let’s not forget the many fabulous neighborhood wine bars…

If I could eat lomo and have a good Rioja or beer any day of the week and watch the world go by in Madrid, I’d be a happy camper. There are so many random wine bars in the various squares that will not disappoint. Be adventurous and pick one.

OK.. I told a fib….maybe a little vino… I can’t help it.


This wine store has an impressive collection of Spanish wines and a very knowledgeable staff. It shouldn’t be missed, especially if you are loading up your suitcase with Spanish wines. Double-check what they charge you for. I think and hope I had the one and only experience of being charged for 2001 Riojas and not 2004. When I brought it to their attention, they quickly changed it and reimbursed the difference on my card. Again, as with every buying experience, caveat emptor.