Lopez de Heredia is the Platonic Ideal of Rioja
Few wines have come to define their entire region in the way that Lopez de Heredia has come to define Rioja. Their wines are the platonic ideal of Rioja, the culmination of over a century of winemaking tradition and the faith that, above all else, tradition will steer them towards quality and a place in the annals of wine history. In other words, one needs no more than a bottle of Lopez de Heredia in order to understand the entire history of winemaking in one of the world’s most storied winemaking regions. What could be a better indicator of class than that?
Though Spain’s history of winemaking is as long as nearly any country in Europe, their progress in creating anything that resembled a modern wine industry lagged behind the rest of the continent until the middle of the 19th century.In the latter half of the 19th century, the assault of phylloxera wreaked havoc on Bordeaux, which prompted Bordelais to investigate Spain as a potential source of wine (the laws about wine origin and appellation were once not as strict as they are now). What resulted was an exchange between Bordeaux and Rioja, wine for winemaking expertise, that slowly modernized the historically rustic Spanish winemaking culture. One of the most important introductions the Bordelais made to Spain was the practice of cask-aging.
While the Bordelais traditionally aged their wines in cask for just a year before release, the Riojans developed a culture of much more intense aging for their wines, including their white wines. In fact, this culture of oak aging became so integral to their wines that the length of time spent aging at a winery was codified into the only legal way of indicating quality in the region. While these legally defined terms are substantial in absolute terms- five total years for Gran Reserva, three total years for Reserva, and two years for Crianza- many estates traditionally aged their wines for much longer.
Lopez de Heredia was one of the first of these “Bordeaux style” estates in Rioja, and they remain one of the few estates that is still committed to aging their wines well beyond the legal minimums. This commitment to the traditions of winemaking in Rioja, as well as their famed Gravonia and Tondonia vineyards, create wines that are supremely elegant, a tea infused subtly with the herbal and sweet notes of the wood as well as the meaty, earthy, desiccated fruit of their famous vineyards. The wines are softened, tannins melting like butter, by the decade plus that every bottle spends in the winery before being released. And, while their wines are not exactly cheap, for what they are, they still offer tremendous value. Nowhere else can you find such finesse, with such age, with such consistent quality for the relatively paltry sums that their wines sell for.
Wine Advocate, 94 Points: The first white I tasted was the 2008 Viña Gravonia Blanco, a true bargain traditional oak-aged Rioja from very old Viura vines (90 years old!) on gravel soils. 2008 was a healthy vintage, which resulted in a slightly smaller crop than 2007, and the white grapes were picked starting on October 9th. They have never added yeasts to their wines, and this fermented in centenary oak vats and matured in used barriques for four years. It was bottled unfiltered. It has the right balance between youth and freshness and the more-developed aromas. The notes of dried flowers, honey, nuts and petrol are intermixed with aromas of quince, medlar and other yellow fruit, with hints of saffron and spices, quite developed. The palate is very tasty, and it ends with a salty finish. This is a cool vintage, where the wines show very good freshness. They do their blends to achieve a homogeneous style that shows the fresh and mineral character of the Gravonia vineyard. Year in, year out, this is one of the greatest bargains in Rioja and Spain. They produced some 17,800 bottles, which were filled in November 2013.
Wine Advocate, 94 Points: It feels very young and primary, impossible to guess its age. The Viura is similar to the one from Gravonia, old and on clay and limestone soils; the white grapes always on whiter, stonier soils. Fermentation was carried out in their 140-year-old oak vats with natural yeasts (a constant here), where it goes through malolactic fermentation. The nose seems less developed than in the 2007 Gravonia, younger and livelier. Even after six years in oak, the wine is not oaky, but the aromas are subtle and even a little shy. The palate is austere and it feels a little stiff, with lively acidity and pungent flavors. This feels like a superb year for this bottling, it’s clear that it’s a great vintage. 35,000 bottles produced.
Wine advocate, 93 Points: The 2005 Viña Tondonia Reserva is a blend of 70% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacho, 5% Graciano and 5% Mazuelo from their vineyards in the meander of the Ebro River, where they have some 100 hectares of vineyards. The wine fermented in the original oak vats that are now some 140 years of age. There is no temperature control and malolactic was also in the vat. The wine was transferred to oak barrels where it slowly matured in their deep, humid caves for no less than six years. After this, it was bottled unfiltered after being fined with egg whites. I think the quality gap between the Reserva and Gran Reserva has been getting smaller since the 2001 vintage and this 2005 is nothing short of exceptional. It’s clean and complex, with more freshness. The wine is very spicy and with a palate that feels very balanced, livelier than in the past. It has a long finish where the flavors are clean. Easy to drink and very pleasurable. Some 250,000 bottles were produced in 2005.