View of Viña Tondonia during the winter of 2005. Photo: lopezdeheredia.com

The Enduring Masterpieces of R. López de Heredia and a Bold New Voice from the Rioja Alavesa

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As winter begins in the Northeastern United States and the days grow gradually colder, the lush verdancy of summer is finally hushed with the stripping of the trees by wind and rain, and the earth gives up musky notes of broken down foliage, moss and fungi.

Current releases from R. López de Heredia brilliantly demonstrate that there is arguably no style of wine more thoroughly evocative of early winter’s essence, or more compatible with the season’s heartier fare than the classic, traditional expression of Rioja.

Still fresh and youthful, these wines are showing beautifully now, giving up hints of their eventual exquisite smoky, truffle infused maturity as seamlessly integrated layers of forest floor, wet earth and fresh berries rise from the glass.

The new arrivals!

Don Rafael López de Heredia began making wine in the Rioja Alta in 1877, purchasing and re-planting the monumental 250 acre vineyard,  Viña Tondonia, on the right bank of the Ebro River in 1913. Guided by an intimate knowledge of and almost symbiotic relationship with the soil and climate of their land, reaching back through four generations, the López de Heredia family continues to craft elegant, poised single vineyard expressions which speak subtly of terroir and resoundingly of heritage.

Firmly rooted in a tradition of fastidious, unrushed and methodical viticulture, R. López de Heredia embodies the core principles of winemaking in Rioja in their purest, most uncorrupted sense.

An extraordinary attention to detail including meticulous bunch selection; careful hand harvesting and de-stemming of grapes; fermentation in large, old oak vats and aging in hand-made American barrels for periods exceeding all D.O. requirements is what sets this bodega apart as the standard bearer of truly great winemaking for the Rioja region. Extensive bottle aging prior to release further contributes to R. López de Heredia’s consistent signature style of aromatically precise, assertively structured yet balanced wines, the most limited and sought after of which, the Gran Reservas, will continue evolving for decades in the cellar.

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, winemaking in Rioja underwent an era of intense transformation and development. Several world class, now iconic bodegas emerged from this evolutionary process, which, like R. López de Heredia, are still in operation.

The establishment of alliances among producers and the formation of regulatory boards with a focus on strict quality control during this period helped strengthen and define Rioja’s flourishing wine industry from within and led to the development of a somewhat homogenous regional style, heavily characterized by the influence of oak-aging.

In the contemporary world of winemaking in Rioja, where the use of new oak has become increasingly heavy-handed and distracting, the wines of R. López de Heredia continue to distinguish themselves through their depth, aromatic fluidity and balanced tannins.

On the other side of the Ebro River from R. López de Heredia, in the Rioja Alavesa, Roberto Oliván Iglesias has been working his eight hectare family estate, Tentenublo, situated near the Basque village of Viñaspre in the foothills of the Sierra Cantabria since 2011.

Roberto Oliván Iglesias at Tentenublo.
Photo: Geoffroy Ducroux (Avant-Garde)

Driven by a deep affinity with the distinct terroir of the high elevation region in which he was raised, this young winemaker farms organically in the poor limestone and sandstone based soil of the land he inherited from his mother. Utilizing old world methods, including fermentation with natural yeasts, foot treading of grapes and aging in used French barrels, Oliván Iglesias produces an overtly earthy, direct and personal style of wine markedly different in character from the more polished expressions which are increasingly associated with Rioja.

If the finessed, more cerebral showpieces of R. López de Heredia feel somewhat isolated from and immune to the realities of nature and the pressures of time, the wines of Tentenublo seem wholly defined by these concerns. Gamey, sanguine and resoundingly evocative of the earth it is raised from, there is a wild, edgy, and spontaneous energy to this expression of Rioja which suggests the urgencies and trials of agrarian life.

Truly great wine tells a story. In the case of R. López de Heredia it is a tale with deep roots in the past relating the evolution of an influential and revered winemaking family. The story of Tentenublo, while borrowing heavily from tradition, evokes the natural world in a manner which is unique among that of its peers and offers a glimpse of future stylistic possibilities for winemaking in Rioja. We invite you to experience these different but equally inspiring expressions from one of Spain's most illustrious wimemaking regions. Sydney Snyder

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López de Heredia 2005 Rioja Gravonia Blanco

The 24 hectare vineyard, Viña Zaconia, with an elevation of 340 meters, and poor stony soil, is planted entirely to the white grape Viura. Showing some development at ten years of age, the 2005 Viña Gravonia Crianza, which spends four years in barrel, is still fresh, lively and firmly structured, exhibiting all the signs of an excellent vintage. Dense and powerful with concentrated notes of mushroom, wild herbs, hazelnut, apricot and petrol. Rich and slightly creamy in texture with contrasting mineral, saline inflections carrying through the long intense finish. Decant and pair with seafood or mushroom risotto, or pork tenderloin. Sydney Snyder

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $28.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

López de Heredia 2007 Rioja Viña Cubillo Crianza

A blend of 65% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacha and small amounts of Mazuelo and Graciano, this wine is a classic example of R. Lopez de Heredia’s inimitable ability to coax forth the myriad aromas and flavors living within the native grapes of their region. While relatively pretty, lighthearted and playful in comparison to its more mature siblings, there are distinctly earthy overtones to this Crianza from the solid 2007 vintage which suggest a more serious side to its personality. Notes of eucalyptus, wet earth, hay and mushroom carry through to the silty textured palate dominated by fresh, wild berries of the forest. Spending three years in barrel, followed by extensive time in bottle prior to release, the wine is firmly structured towards the finish as the aromatics continue to build and evolve, leaving one to wonder what transformations might lie ahead… if only there were one more glass. Sydney Snyder  

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $27.99

López de Heredia 2004 Rioja Bosconia Reserva

Historically blended with a large proportion of Pinot Noir (which may account for the notable use of a Burgundy-style bottle), wines from the El Bosque vineyard today are quintessential expressions of Rioja made entirely from native varietals including higher percentages of Tempranillo and Garnacha blended with Mazuelo and Graciano. When tasting the 2004 Bosconia Reserva with Maria Jose Lopez de Heredia, she described the wine as “rustic” and recommended pairing it with lamb. We would respectfully suggest that rustic is a relative term! The absence of frosts in the Spring of 2004 along with ample sunshine through the long autumn, allowed for optimum budding conditions, steady aromatic development of fruit, and a slow, careful harvest during which only the highest quality grapes were selected. Ideal vintage conditions combined with five years of barrel aging, with racking twice a year, followed by extended bottle aging have yielded a bold, full bodied, yet elegant and aromatically compelling wine which pairs beautifully with heartier dishes including roasted poultry, game and, of course, lamb. Sydney Snyder

 

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $36.99

López de Heredia 2003 Rioja Tondonia Reserva

R, Lopez de Heredia’s flagship vineyard Vina Tondonia is nobly situated in a shell-like depression on the right bank of the Ebro River. This magnificent 250 acre site is the source of grapes for the bodega’s premier quality and longest aging wines, including the Gran Reservas, both red and white, made exclusively from exceptional vintages. Positioned nearby the river, the soil of the vineyard is primarily alluvial clay with a high proportion of limestone. This soil composition contributes to the rich, weighty texture that characterizes Vina Tondonia wines. Deep toned, muscular and powerful, the 2003 Vina Tondonia Red Reserva is a blend of 75% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha, and 10% Graciano and Mazuelo which spends six years aging in barrel. Luxurious and generous on the nose and palate, showing seamlessly interwoven notes of smoke, leather, dark chocolate and mushroom, paired with a hearty meal, this wine has much to offer now. Its restless, brooding energy, combined with firm tannins and persistent acidity despite the heat of the 2003 vintage, also suggest several year of evolution to come. Sydney Snyder

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $46.99

Tentenublo 2014 Rioja Viñedos en Viñaspre

A striking departure from the technically driven, polished showpieces which have become the hallmark of critically acclaimed winemaking in Rioja. While defined by the same intense, sanguine rusticity  as in 2013, this vintage of Viñedos en Viñaspre, made from  Tempranillo,  Garnacha,  Viura and Alarije,  is more nuanced, offering exotic  notes of  umeboshi plum,  black tea and lavendar. A satisfying, soulful wine that is a must-try for anyone interested in exploring the evolving landscape of winemaking in Rioja.  Sydney Snyder

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $25.99