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2002 Viña Tondonia Tinto Reserva, Bodegas R. López de Heredia
Bodegas Lopez de Heredia is one of the wine world’s great wine treasures. Founded in 1877 by Don Rafael López de Heredia y Landeta, the Bodega was built close to the railway station at Haro, in Rioja, its location geographically symbolic for proximity of access to the ideas of Bordeaux and practically useful for transportation of both grapes and wines.
Snr López (forgive me for abbreviating his name henceforth) established the legendary Tondonia vineyards on the alluvial slopes overlooking the River Ebro on the cusp of the Alta and Alavesa wine sub-regions. A visionary and a romantic, his aspirations were impressive and included architectural plans that almost put one in mind of the Sagrada Familia. Indeed, both buildings remain unfinished, but both are iconic, not least because of their Babelish scale...Châteaux en Espagne!
Their famous Observation Tower at Haro is a great landmark and, as its name implies and its intentions ordained, a good place to witness the progress of the vines over the seasons. It is known locally as the Txori-Toki,the Basque term for a bird house.
The Lopez de Heredia portfolio extends over 170 hectares and four autonomous vineyard areas, of which Tondonia is both the largest (70 hectares) and the most famous. The other three are Cubillo, Bosconia and Gravonia; each with distinctive terroir and aspect and differing styles of wine.
In terms of grape varieties, the reds are dominated by Tempranilo, but there are also old-vine plantings of Graciano, Garnacha and Mazuelo. The whites come from both Viura and Malvasia, with more of the former planted, some of which is extremely old.
One feature above all underwrites the house philosophy and that is, of course, the use of oak, be it the large vessels used for fermentation or the Bordeaux-size barrels for maturation, of which there are over 14,000 in the bodega’s labyrinthine cellars. New oak is shunned and the majority, but not all of the barrels, are sourced in America. An in-house Cooperage ensures that specifications are met and the ageing regime tends towards the longer end of the scale, albeit within the limits prescribed by the laws of the Denominacion.
Our visit to the Bodega: Read the blog on tastings of Viña Zaconia 1970 and Viña Tondonia 1954.
Reserva and Gran Reserva red and white wines are indulged similarly, with frequent racking as necessary, egg-white fining and bottling without filtration. A further stylistic key is the extensive pre-release bottle aging. Cash flow is certainly not king at Tondonia; the quest for perfection is paramount and the wine, unlike that from in some areas one could mention, is released only when ready.
And the quality is such that the top wines maintain this plateau of perfection for years and years, often decades. A fascinating tasting of old white and red Riojas at The World of Fine Wine in 2011 confirmed this fact; the older star wines were mostly from Tondonia (with one or two from Riscal admittedly) and the vintages which stood out were 1945, 1964 and the relatively youthful 1970!
The Lopez de Heredia wines are not all old and venerable and it is great that the younger examples, whilst maintaining the House style and the elegant warmth that one has come to expect from fine Rioja, have an exuberant freshness and approachability which one may not have expected from this source. The entire vinous family, in other words, impresses; Lopez de Heredia provides the perfect antidote to global vinous homogeneity with a range that is challenging and diverse, cerebral and yet sensual. A fitting legacy for the entrepreneurial Snr Lopez and one which I am delighted to commend it to the Berry Bros. & Rudd house.
Simon Field MW, Spanish Wine Buyer
There are over 200 different grape varieties used in modern wine making (from a total of over 1000). Most lesser known blends and varieties are traditional to specific parts of the world.
Rioja is known primarily for its reds although it also makes white wines from the Viura and Malvasia grapes and rosés mainly from Garnacha. Most wineries (bodegas) have their own distinct red wine formula, but are normally a combination of Tempranillo, Garnacha and sometimes Graciano. Other red varieties recently approved into the Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa) regulations are the little-known Maturana Tinta, Maturana Parda, and Monastel (not to be confused with Monastrell). The most important of these by far is the king of native Spanish varieties, Tempranillo, which imbues the wines with complex and concentrated fruit flavours.
The Garnacha, meanwhile, bestows its wines with warm, ripe fruit and adds an alcohol punch. Graciano is an améliorateur grape (one that is added, often in small proportions, to add a little something to the final blend) and is found mainly in Reserva and Gran Reserva wines, albeit in small quantities (two to five percent), adding freshness and aroma, and enhancing the wines' ageing potential.
Crianza wines are aged for one year in oak followed by maturation for one year in bottle before being released for sale. Reservas must undergo a minimum of three years’ ageing before release, at least one of which should be in oak casks. Finally, Gran Reservas, which are only produced in the finest vintages, must spend at least five years maturing, of which at least two must be in oak.
Geographically, Rioja is divided in to three districts: Alavesa, Alta and Baja. Rioja Alavesa lies in the northwest of the La Rioja region in the Basque province of Álava. Along with Rioja Alta, it is the heartland of the Tempranillo grape. Rioja Alta, to the north-west and south of the Ebro River in the province of La Rioja, stretches as far as the city of Logroño. Elegance and poise is the hallmark of wines made here with Rioja Alta Tempranillo. Mazuelo (Carignan) is occasionally added to wines from this area to provide tannins and colour. Rioja Baja, located to the south-east, is the hottest of the three districts and specialises in Garnacha.
Rioja has witnessed a broad stylistic evolution over the years. The classic Riojas pioneered by Murrieta and Riscal in the 19thcentury were distinguished by long oak-barrel-ageing whereas the modern style, represented by Marqués de Cáceres since 1970, showcases the fruit and freshness of Tempranillo, keeping oak ageing to the legal minimum. The post-modern school that emerged in the late 1990s from producers like Palacios Remondo and Finca Allende concentrate on making wines from old vines or specific vineyard plots to accentuate the terroir, and using larger proportions of minority varietals such as Graciano.
The alta expression wines, pioneered by Finca Allende (among others) and later taken up by almost every other producer in Rioja, represent the newest flagship category in Rioja. Alongside the traditional Gran Reservas, alta expression wines are limited production and come from low-yielding vines, often from a single vineyard, and are hand-picked. Excellent examples of this style are Artadi's Pagos Viejos and El Pison.
However, modernisation has not held back the continuation of successful traditional styles as well. Happily long-established houses such La Rioja Alta, CVNE and Marques de Vargas continue to make graceful, old style wines better than ever before.
White Rioja is typically produced by the Viura grape which must comprise at least 51 percent of the blend; the rest can be made up by other, recently-authorised varieties, namely Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Verdejo, as well as the native Maturana Blanca, Tempranillo Blanco, and Turruntés (not to be mistaken for Torrontés).