Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lopez de Heredia Vertical

Last Thursday a colleague and I headed up from Redwood City to Heart, a new wine bar/art gallery/eatery in the Mission for what amounted to a very cool line-up of wines, some very old, from Lopez de Heredia. For those who are not wine inclined, or others who are and do not read Eric Asimov's excellent blog, then all you need to know about Lopez de Heredia is the following: It is an estate in Rioja, in the north of Spain about an hour's drive south of San Sebastian, making wines in an uber traditional way. That means that their fermenters are very old and made of wood, they do not add anything in the winemaking proces other than egg whites for fining, and they let the wines age in seasoned American oak, then in bottle, for a very, very long time. Their current release rosé in the US market is the 1998. Their current release "younger" white, the Viña Gravonia, is from the 2000 vintage. They own all their own vineyards (a rarity in Rioja) and continue to cultivate their vineyards carefully and as naturally as possible. In the words of British wine writer Julian Jeffs, "This is the home of really old, traditional Rioja."

There are very few wineries anywhere in the world which continue to produce wines in more or less the same fashion as each generation which preceded the current one. To me, this is part of the charm of Lopez de Heredia wines. One is tempted to imagine that their wines from the 1920's, whenever they were released, tasted very similar to how their modern day counterparts taste. How many other estates conjure up a taste of what likely came before in such a way?

While it was terrific to see the current releases (there are some beauties there), the real fascination of last week's tasting was tasting some older wines. 1957 Viña Tondonia Blanco Gran Reserva- still good? 1954 Viña Bosconia Gran Reserva? Read below for some quickly formed impressions on some very slowly elaborated, truly original wines.


Great Bosconia and great Tondonia reds are, well, really good wines. It is the whites, however, that are truly unique and without comparison in the world of wine. Lopez de Heredia always took great pride in their whites, which historically was the favored wine of royalty, nobility and the like (save the red for the peasants!) The tradition continues to this day with one of the most unusual and stellar line-ups of white wines around.

2000 Lopez de Heredia Viña Gravonia Crianza Rioja

100% Viura grapes. From the Gravonia (gravelly) vineyard. Cooler micro-climate. This shows the tell-tale yellow stone fruit with gutsy acidity and subtle hints of spice and sweetness from American oak. This vintage is more generous than the 1999, richer, but still with good cut and acidity. I wonder why people drink white Graves when they can drink Gravonia.

1991 Lopez de Hereida Viña Tondonia Blanco Reserva Rioja

85% Viura, 15% Malvasia. There is more weight on the palate, as well as greater depth of flavor and hints of marzipan. This 19 year old white is still young and will age nicely.

1973 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Blanco Gran Reserva Rioja

Same blend as above. This shows the most mature of the line-up, with a certain savory, woodsy and slightly herbal quality. Still a really interesting white that happens to sacrifice a bit of the typical youthful quality of these wines for some bottle aged complexity.

1957 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Blanco Gran Reserva

Amazing, and unbelievably young tasting. These gran reserva wines are as much about youthful and bright flavors as they are about the velvety mouth feel and texture. This is one of the most singular wines of any type that I have ever tasted. 53 years old and so tasty! A treasure.


1998 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rosado Gran Reserva

Unfortunately, this did not taste like the most representative bottle of this delicious wine, a gran reserva rosado and the only long aged rosé of its type produced in Rioja. I meant to mention something, but the allure of other LdH wines left to explore distracted me from doing so.


2004 Lopez de Heredia Viña Cubillo Crianza Rioja

65% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacha, 5% mazuelo, 5% graciano. Shows the muscle and structure of the vintage. This is the best young Cubillo (make that Cubillo of any age, as I have yet to lay down any for aging purposes) I have ever tasted. Intense, mineral, structured fruit with a stern edge and some years of improvement ahead of it.

2002 Lopez de Heredia Viña Bosconia Reserva Rioja

80% Tempranillo, 15% garnacha, 3% mazuelo, 2% graciano. A lighter vintage in Rioja, and it reflects in this particular wine. Very direct, with pretty red fruits that are not particularly intense, expansive, or long lasting in the mouth. Not a Bosconia to forget about for too long in the cellar.

2000 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Reserva Rioja

75% tempranillo, 15% garnacha, 5% mazuelo, 5% graciano. María José Lopez de Heredia has a saying: When it comes to her wines, either you're a Bosconian or a Tondonian. I generally prefer, ever so slightly, the nervier, more high toned and mineral Bosconia wines. That having been said, this 2000 Tondonia is a stunner. It's showing great right now, with amazing depth and intensity to the darker fruit flavors. Minerality, check. Balanced, but still youthful tannins that don't bite back, check. This is a wine to keep for a while, to be sure. It's delicious now, though I suspect that it will be wonderful at 20 years old.

1991 Lopez de Heredia Viña Bosconia Gran Reserva Rioja
1991 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva Rioja

What a great contrast between these two current release Gran Reserva wines, and a classic Bosconia vs Tondonia comparison at that. The Bosconia, more mineral, Burgundian and hauntingly beautiful. Tondonia, deeper and more intense on the mid-palate. Tondonia like this one brings to mind traditional claret, subtle yet authoritative, elegant and balanced. It makes me attempt to write like an English wine critic.

1978 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva Rioja

This bottle lacked focus and seemed to be getting a bit tired. Perhaps not a great bottle, though I had a similarly underwhelming experience a couple years back, now that I think of it.

1954 Lopez de Heredia Viña Bosconia Gran Reserva Rioja

Not the killer wine I was hoping for, but still alive and quite interesting. The fruit was still hanging in there and there was a bit of a dank, musty cellar quality. Not TCA, just damp, dank cellar. It's worth clarifying the difference. Anyway, not my favorite but fun to try.

Thank you to María José, as well as to Hiram Simon and Brian Greenwood of Winewise, Lopez de Heredia's California distributor, for offering such an incredible opportunity to taste so many Lopez de Heredia wines at once.


luc said...

yeah boy...just love.
See you soon...at Heart maybe?

David McDuff said...

"I wonder why people drink white Graves when they can drink Gravonia."

Indeed, Gravonia Blanco is far more characterful than most Graves Blanc, and a better value to boot.

For the record, I've also had a couple of disappointing bottles of the '98 rosado in the last year. Regrettably, one of them had been opened specifically to convince a doubter of how great the wine can be. Some bottle variation is inevitable at its age, I suppose.

Joe Manekin said...

David -

Too bad. Musty cellar syndrome, perhaps, a la Poniatowski?

Luc - "Choo luv!!" Better to grab a beer somewhere. Do you really want to hang out at a wine bar on your day off??