Not all that long ago — a quarter century or so — nobody drank Spanish wine, or at least nobody cared to. Winemakers in the land of conquistadors and world explorers weren’t making anything worth drinking. All that imported wine and inexpensive cava had to go somewhere, so it often made its way into a pitcher of beach sangria or ended up wrapped in a bag and consumed on the stoop of a 7-11.
Thankfully, those days are long gone, replaced by winemakers like Alvara Palacios, who makes the highly regarded L’Ermita in the Priorat, and Manuel Louzada, whose Numanthia Bodega produces top-notch wines in the Toro DOC, in the northwest of Spain, which means they’re also some of the best in Spain.
I’ve sipped and swirled with Louzada before, and I never grow tired of his enthusiasm for tinta de toro, the grapes he’s using to make his three Numanthia wines: Numanthia, Termanthia and Termes.
“Manuel always produces wines with a perfect balance between fruit, terroir and a winemaker’s hand,” is how my friend Ed Kukol put it. (Kukol helps market the Numanthia portfolio for Moet Hennessy USA, but he has a keen palate and knows what he’s talking about.) He’s right.
Even before Louza took over the reigns at Numanthia five years ago — back when he was the lead winemaker at Cheval des Andes — his wines have had presence, they’ve had weight. They’ve had delicious, ripe fruit balanced by bright acidity and a sturdy tannic backbone. This is especially true in his Termanthia, a limited production wine made from 200-year-old vines that yield just 0.7 tons per acre.
“I try to capture in the bottle what I taste in the vineyard,” Louzada tells me over lunch at the Mansion on Turtle Creeek, where we are joined by Kukol and Mansion managing director Christian Tavelli. “When you taste the Termanthia, you taste the 140-year-old vines in the grapes, that complex interplay between earth and fruit. There’s a tension between the tannins and the acidity, the sweetness, the texture, the complex nose.”
“When I took over Numanthia, the vines were already well cared for,” says Louzada. “We moved from 90 percent organic farming to 100 percent, and continued to harvest everything by hand.” He pauses to take a bite of Big Eye tuna and a sip of Termes, his favorite pairing for the blended red wine. He lifts his glass, inspects the deep ruby color, then continues. “With five harvests under my belt, I’m happy the winery’s owners trusted me to keep production small.”