Speaking to Maria Lopez Heredia earlier this year, I asked about her traditional wines and how wine styles, especially in Spain, have changed over the last two decades. ‘The world of wine has changed around us many times over the last century and a half, but we continue to make the same wines. Trends come and go, but to capture the essence of Rioja one can’t change with every trend…For us, tradition and conviction are life-long attitudes.’ She further explained that the style of her wine has recently been overlooked due to more modern wines, but consumers are coming back, seeking more elegance and honesty.
Lopez Heredia is fast becoming one of the most sought-after wines in Spain and older vintages are now almost impossible to find.
Traditional methods of blending varieties other than Tempranillo into the reds, such as Garnacho, Graciano and Mazuelo, haven’t changed. Extremely long ageing, up to 10 years in barrel for the Gran Reserva, are standard practice and the wines are only released when they are felt to be ready.
They own four properties and have discovered that each vineyard is suited for a specific style of wine. Tondonia for Reserva and Gran Reserva, Cubillo for Crianza reds, Bosconia for Reserva reds and Gravonia for whites.
‘If you are seeking bags of fruit and lashings of oak, this is not the place to come,’ says Neal Martin of the Wine Advocate. ‘Lopez de Heredia is the apotheosis of traditional, classic wines: taut, fresh, bucolic, utterly charming and amazingly long-lived.’ A Magnum of the Tondonia Reserva late last year was one of the finest wine experiences I have ever had. The wine opened up over a few hours to extremely pure, yet delicate sweet fruit, huddled by a minerality and savoury structure. This has to be one of the best value wines on the planet!
The Gravonia White just received a 29th position in this year’s Wine Spectator top 100 list. It seems even the modernists are appreciating the style.
These are current releases that have just landed. Please find ample information about the wines and Neal Martin’s (WA) review below.
– Roland Peens, Wine Cellar
|Lopez Heredia||Vina Tondonia Reserva||2001||R 375||WA 95|
|Lopez Heredia||Vina Cubillo Crianza||2005||R 225||WA 91|
|Lopez Heredia||Vina Bosconia Reserva||2003||R 305||WA 92|
|Lopez Heredia||Vina Gravonia Crianza||2003||R 225||WA 93|
|Lopez Heredia||Vina Tondonia Reserva||1998||R 375|
|Lopez Heredia||Vina Tondonia Grand Reserva***||1991||R 895||WA 93|
The 2001 Vina Tondonia Reserva is bridled with a lovely nose of decayed red fruit, fireside hearth, a touch of mulberry and small red cherry. The palate is medium-bodied with fine tannins, crisp red fruits (wild strawberry and cranberry) with a sharp, vibrant, tense, tannic finish that has immense precision. There is a slight saline note lingering in the mouth after the wine has (regretfully) departed. Drink now-2030+.
The 2005 Cubillo Tinto Crianza has a wonderful bouquet with leathery red fruit augmented by subtle hints of undergrowth, tobacco and a touch of spice. The palate is medium-bodied with a bit of piquancy on the entry. The acidity is quite sharp and it is missing a little flesh and weight towards the tensile finish. Drink now-2018.
The 2003 Vina Bosconia has another enticing bouquet: hints of cooked meat, hickory, peat and rosemary that is beautifully defined. The palate is medium-bodied with firm dry tannins and a poised, lifted earthy finish with touches of soy and sea salt on the aftertaste. This deserves several more years in bottle. Drink 2018-2030+.
The 2003 Gravonia is a beautiful example of a traditional white Rioja. Fresh and elegant, with harmonious, complex flavors of apple, mint, almond, beeswax and rose water. Delicate yet intense, balanced and long. Drink now through 2023. 2,083 cases made.
The 1991 Vina Tondonia Blanco Gran Reserva offers shaved almond, lemon rind, honeysuckle and dandelion on the well-defined nose that demands coaxing. The palate is crisp on the entry with dried honey, dried mango and citrus peel on the entry, fanning out towards a complex, resinous finish with a hint of rosewater on the aftertaste. Drink now-2020+.
I have adored, indeed occasionally worshiped, the wines of Lopez de Heredia for many years, so I am not ashamed to admit that visiting both their vineyard and their winery was a pilgrimage. Founded by Rafael Lopez de Heredia y Landeta in 1877, it has withstood the tide of corporatization and homogeneity, and epitomizes timeless, artisan winemaking in their own individual, almost solipsistic manner. Technology is noticeable by its absence here. For example, to quote her sister Maria-Jose at a tasting that I subsequently attended in London: “Indigenous yeasts have adapted to high temperatures. To control the temperature during fermentation, we open doors and windows” and “malolactic is the invention of modern winemakers.” I had to check whether this was 2012 or 1912. If you were to award points for charisma, then this producer would be in a league of its own. That would count for nothing if their wines were not distinguished, individual, long-lived and above all, delicious. It is commonly known that if you are seeking bags of fruit and lashings of oak, this is not the place to come. My views and these scores might be irrational to someone with a penchant for lush, voluptuous Rioja. Lopez de Heredia is the apotheosis of traditional, classic wines: taut, fresh, bucolic, utterly charming and amazingly long-lived. I spent two or three hours with winemaker Mercedes Lopez de Heredia, who was celebrating her birthday with, appropriately enough, a bottle of Tondonia Gran Reserva from her year of birth. I urge readers to access the video I took of Mercedes explaining the vineyard in her own breathless style. In the meantime, I will crack on with the wines “Wines should talk by themselves,” Maria-Jose enthused to her enraptured audience at a tasting in London. “My father was a vine maker, not a winemaker. Each wine is a reflection of a different land that my great-grandfather bought. Our wines respond to the history of Rioja.” I would add to her comments that since these are mainly aged wines, a bottle of Lopez de Heredia is an individual and each time you meet, you may see a different side to its personality. So treat these reviews as they are: snapshots at a given moment. We commence with their white wines and indeed, I know of several connoisseurs who rate these even better than their reds and I can sympathize with that view. “The white wines were made as a copy of Graves and were made to be aged,” Marie-Jose continued. “So they are made like reds and are harvested at the same time. They undergo skin contact for one, two or three days to absorb the preservative from the skins and pips. Viura gives complexity as it ages.” Neal Martin