Wine Review: Spain's Tinta De Toro

All along the unforgiving hillsides of Toro in Northwest Spain grow vines of Tinta de Toro, most of which have been thriving there for 120 years or longer.

With winemaking roots that stretch back nearly as far, Manuel Louzada, estate director of Numanthia, is just as steadfast in his commitment to create an intense yet elegant wine. Much like the vines of Toro, he is beating the odds.

Born in Portugal into the fourth generation of Louzada wine growers, Manuel discovered his passion for wine at just 5 years old. Exploring his family's winery with his grandfather, he learned the secrets of the craft at an early age and went on to study its more technical aspects while earning a master's degree in winemaking.

After one harvest as winemaker for his family's estate, Manuel moved on and up, quickly rising to become a head winemaker working with the vines of the Duero and the whispered secrets of Toro.

Toro is the Spanish word for "bull," and the name is appropriate, as the region is at once fierce and stubborn. The harsh, dry seasons have yielded robust vines that have resisted the assaults of time, extreme climatic variations and the phylloxera plague to become among the oldest in all of Spain. The vines draw their strength from layers of clay in the subsoil below a surface of sandy rocks. This strength, resiliency, and intensity all get channeled into the vines' Tinta de Toro, the only grape used for all three wines that Numanthia makes. Threatened by so many potential challenges, the grapes' ideal ripeness and flavor hang in a delicate balance. That's where Manuel comes in.

Manuel combines his knowledge of agriculture, winemaking and the Duero terroirs into a skill for guiding the grapes towards their perfect sweet spots. As Numanthia's head winemaker, he oversees all aspects of the grapes' growth. To avoid over ripeness, Manuel ensures that all the vineyards' canopies are balanced and that grapes grow from the center of the bush. This enables them to hang in the air but be shaded by leaves, preventing sunburn and retaining freshness and acidity.

There's also the challenge of overly intense grapes resulting in a wine that is too concentrated. Luckily, Manuel is skilled at bringing out the more elegant flavors. Numanthia's grapes are all harvested and sorted by hand, ensuring that only those at the peak of ripeness are selected. Numanthia wines are also foot trodden, Termanthia by traditional stomping and Numanthia by pneumatic feet. When done properly, this leaves 10 to 20 percent of the grapes intact, adding fresh flavors. Afterward, the wine goes through two periods in new French oak barrels to achieve elegance and complexity.

The result of all this hard work is a wine that tempts with a sweet scent, offers creaminess in the mid-palate, and finishes strong with intense tannins. Manuel's perfect reward for a job well done.

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