2006 Viña Tondonia Tinto, Reserva, Bodegas R. López de Heredia, Rioja, Spain
Luis Gutiérrez - Wine Advocate - Feb 2018
About this WINE
Bodegas R. Lopez de Heredia
Bodegas López de Heredia (LDH) is one of the wine world’s great wine treasures. Founded in 1877 by Don Rafael López de Heredia y Landeta, it remains safely in family hands to this day.
The imposing bodega was built close to Haro railway station, significant for Rioja’s access to the ideas of Bordeaux. It survives as one of the foundation stones of the modern Riojan wine industry.
Unusually for Rioja, Lopez de Heredia produce wines solely from the fruit of their own 170 hectares of vines. These vines are in four separate vineyards arranged on the alluvial slopes overlooking the river Ebro, on the cusp of the sub regions Alta and Alavesa. Each is given its own expression in their wines Tondonia, Bosconia, Cubillo and Gravonia.
The grapes planted here are mainly Tempranillo with some Graciano, Garnacha and Mazuelo for the reds and Viura with Malvasia for the whites. The age of the vines plays a significant role in the character and quality of the wines, with some plantings reaching 80-100 years old. These gnarled vines deliver naturally low yields and help to bring high levels of complexity in the final wines.
LDH are not particularly vocal about their efforts around sustainability. This is because they don’t wish to promote their wines on the basis of practices they consider normal. Having never adopted the chemical regimes which became so widespread, they have not had to reverse any of the damage. They continue to manage their vineyards in a fashion which Don Rafeal would still recognise today.
The bodega itself is a cathedral of wine, with towering vats and stacks of barrels. Visitors can be left in no doubt as to the venerability of this place and the importance of tradition. As is typical in Rioja, oak has a significant role to play here. But new barrels, made onsite in their own cooperage, are broken in with wines which are reserved for bodega celebrations. When the barrels go into service after three years of seasoning the influence they exert on the wines is a slow and gentle development of personality rather than overpowering vanillin and lactones.
Wines are released with considerable age (far more than any legal requirements) and only when LDH deem them ready. If something runs out in the marketplace, they don’t rush to replace it; the new vintage will follow only when it’s finished. (A sometimes frustrating, but ultimately rewarding, experience for devoted followers.) In fact, not rushing is at the heart of the way the family works, in the vineyard and in the winery.
Their range of reds opens with their unusually complex and intriguing Crianza Cubillo. The three years which Cubillo spends in cask, plus four to five years in bottle before release, exceeds the legal levels for Gran Reserva. Bosconia Reserva appears in a Burgundy bottle – a hint as to the elegant yet full-bodied wine within. In exceptional years, a Bosconia Gran Reserva is also made. This is only released 20 years after the vintage, and it is predictably scarce.
LDH’s most famous and largest vineyard is the magnificent Tondonia, first established by Don Rafael in 1913. It’s made up of 100 ha of red and white grapes. Tondonia Reserva is always full of energy; a showcase for the bodega’s trademark freshness. The Gran Reserva is only made in the best years; it has massive concentration and demands long ageing.
The white wines are nothing short of extraordinary. Viña Gravonia is made from 24ha of Viura grown in the Zaconia vineyard near the banks of the river Ebro. This vineyard ticks every conceivable box to produce white grapes which achieve ripeness and intricate character. An intricacy which is further enhanced by four years in cask and at least the same again resting in bottle before release. The two Tondonia Blancos – Reserva and Gran Reserva – go further still, spending six and 10 years in cask respectively.
Their oxidative style is not to all tastes, but – for those who enjoy them – they are impossible to substitute. Served with food they positively gleam.
Best of BBX: Rioja
A high quality red wine grape that is grown all over Spain except in the hot South - it is known as Tinto Fino in Ribera del Duero, Cencibel in La Mancha and Valdepenas and Ull de Llebre in Catalonia. Its spiritual home is in Rioja and Navarra where it constitutes around 70% of most red blends.
Tempranillo-based wines tend to have a spicy, herbal, tobacco-like character accompanied by ripe strawberry and red cherry fruits. It produces fresh, vibrantly fruit driven "jovenes" meant for drinking young. However Tempranillo really comes into its own when oak aged, as with the top Riojas where its flavours seem to harmonise perfectly with both French and American oak, producing rich, powerful and concentrated wines which can be extraordinarily long-lived.
In Ribera del Duero it generally sees less oak - the exception being Vega Sicilia where it is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and then aged for an astonishing 7 years in oak and is unquestionably one of the world`s greatest wines.
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I have said it before and I will say it again: the first sniff of Tondonia Tinto Reserva always makes me smile – and the 2006 is no exception. Reassuringly “Tondonia”, the nose exhibits the classic characteristics of sweet strawberries and leather, yet it is bright, perfumed and vibrant at the same time. It has wonderful complexity with supremely integrated hints of vanilla and that warming, autumnal feel which will make any aficionado of Spanish wines feel at home. The palate is where there is a slight, subtle gearchange; it is lip-smackingly fresh with fine acidity and tart raspberry fruit. There is a real line to this wine; it feels “straight-up” – quite different to the open generosity of 2005. The tannins are super-fine, yet the structure of the wine is clear, all supported by gentle, supremely integrated oak. To complete a near-perfect picture is the serious, yet wonderfully long finish – a finish that is subtly complex yet which goes on and on towards nuanced depths, with even a hint of marmite. It would be impossible not to enjoy this wine now, yet believe it or not, it still feels young. It will relax slightly, opening up even more over the next couple of years – and has wonderful potential for longevity. Enjoy at its peak from 2021 to ’35 onwards, but don’t be put off trying it now with a bit of air.
Catriona Felstead MW, Spain Buyer
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