I'm a loyalist when it comes to wine and barbera is my lady. I have flings with other wines that are harder to find on a regular basis, and I have one-night affairs with the likes of grenache, syrah, pinor noir and others. Barbera and I keep coming back to each other.
When my friend Pat Mangan, who works for Moet Hennessy invited me to Bacchus last night to try three wines made by Manuel Louzada at Moet's Bodega Numanthia winery in the Toro region of Spain, I figured I might learn a little something.
First, I learned that the three Numanthia wines we tasted – 2008 "Termes," 2007 "Numanthia" and 2007 "Termanthia" – are absolutely stellar wines.
But they are no secret to folks in the know. Numanthia's wines have, over the years, garnered ratings on 98 and 100. Yes, 100.
Louzada, a native of Portugal who lives in Spain, grew up in wine, learning winemaking from his grandfather beginning at age 5. He's worked at the family winery (Messias) in Portugal, in Argentina's Mendoza region and in Spain.
When he landed in Toro, he realized that the wines there were extremely distinctive and bold and so heavily tannic that while locals adored them, outsiders had trouble falling in love.
"You have to know up here," Louzada said, pointing to his head, "what you want the wine to taste like in the bottle and you have to work to make it happen."
These, he said, are not wines that come easily; the grapes will not do the work themselves.
But, for those of us on the business end of the cork, it's worth it.
The top of the breed is the regally purple Termanthia, aged 20 months in oak, which will set you back about $200 a bottle. Made from 100 percent Tinta de Toro grapes from ungrafted 120-140-year-old vines, Termanthia is balanced with a fruity embrace and cherry and vanilla notes.
It most certainly owes at least a portion of its complexity and elegance to those vines that date to before phylloxera devastated Europe's vineyards more than a century ago.
Interestingly, the grapes are destemmed by hand by 32 women at the winery, Louzada said, and are foot-crushed by two of the town's larger gentlemen (don't worry, they wear hip waders).
I especially savored this wine knowing that we might never meet again. Termanthia 2004, by the way, earned a 100 rating from Robert Parker.
Numanthia and Termes (about $60 and $28 a bottle, respectively) felt familiar to me. Their firm tannins and deep ruby color reminded me of barbera.
Both wines consistently earn scores from Parker, Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast in the 90s and both are made from 100 percent Tinta, but Termes comes from younger vineyard stock and Numanthia is aged a few months longer in oak.
Numanthia, from 70-100-year-old ungrafted vines is layered with chocolate, spice, blackberry, oak and, especially in the nose, coffee. It is fat and smooth with a satisfyingly long finish.
Termes is fruitier with more licorice and a touch of oak. It feels exciting. It's the Numanthia that's looking for a good time.
All three are ripe and ready for a good dinner.
And thanks to Bacchus' Chef Adam Siegel, we got that.
In fact, the dinner, which wasn't strictly Spanish but had a Spanish flavor, led Louzada to tell Siegel afterward that two of the pairings were the best he's ever experienced.
The highlights for me were the tender grilled calamari wedded with a green bean salad and lemon and black olive oil and a grilled quail breast atop figs and roasted pork belly and stewed peppers and garnished with toasted pine nuts.
To accompany dessert – a creme caramel under a date cake, garnished with a paper-thin candied orange slice and toasted almonds – Bartolotta's John Wise, to the surprise and delight of Louzada, brought in a 1982 Porto Colheita ($65 a bottle), from Louzada's family winery in Portugal. Recently released, this sweet port with a hazelnut nose and a kiss of raisin, spent 28 years in oak.
Incidentally, Louzada also nearly jumped for joy when Wise brought up a couple Numanthia gems from the wine cellar to be autographed. Some of the four or five bottles Wise was clutching are extremely rare.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.