I lean towards naturally made wines subjected to minimal human intervention that can transport me to the vineyards, hills, and cellars of their birthplace. So it was no surprise that tasting through seven recent releases from the venerable Rioja producer, Lopez de Heredia, made for a compelling, head-turning, and fully recommended indulgence. These are profound wines which can be secured at prices that defy their artistry. One family’s succeeding generations have produced wines at this bodega, found in the Alta Rioja capital town of Haro, for more than 100 years. Even confronting these wines in glassware, thousands of miles from Rioja, offers the taster a window on a tradition that refuses to succumb to modern trends in wine production and market dynamics. The New York Times’ Eric Asimov does a good job covering this evolving Lopez de Heredia heritage in this blog post from August of 2009. The family is openly protective and respectful of their wine making traditions in a changing world saying:
For us, tradition and conviction are life-long attitudes. Our winemaking process has been passed on from generation to generation, and our daily tasks are rooted in tradition, yet at the same time based on our deep belief in the validity and modernity of our methods. By “tradition”, we do not mean immobility and opposition to change; rather a dynamic and aesthetic concept in maintaining eternal principles and criteria. We are perfectly aware of the rhythm of change, and for this reason, our openness to change, our flexibility, our non-conformism and our self-criticism enable us to face the future. What we have inherited from our ancestors is what converts our idiosyncrasies into positive qualities and attitudes.
An opportunity to taste these wines with Eric Broege at Vintages proved modern thinking can be selectively integrated to protect the essential beauty of traditionally unique results. We tasted white, rosé, and red wines inclusive of the recently released and other-worldly 1991 Gran Reserva. These great Gran Reservas are aged in wood for 6-8 years and held in bottle for approximately ten more years before they are considered ready to drink and release. The rosé is as uniquely captivating as the Gran Reserva, also seeing extended wood and bottle age prior to release, triggering nothing reminiscent of a typical rosé drinking experience. In general, the overwhelming style distinction of all these Lopez de Heredia wines are fully integrated flavor and aromatic components, that are knitted together in the patient wine making process, delivering nuances of aged wines in favor of a younger, fruit forward style. The flavor components and supporting acidity and tannins wash over the palate in total synch with one another, all melded together to create an impression that is more important in its fullness than in its critical dissection. I recommend clicking on this image for a short video of Eric sharing his thoughts on these wines:
Here are the wines I tasted, a ranking of one star up to five stars based on their relative drinking pleasure compared to each other, and prices. They are tremendous values, and at $28 you will not find white wines of this complexity, you will never see a rosé of its type, and you might never find a $100 bottle in the new world that will impart as much authentic pleasure as the final Gran Reserva on the following list. You can buy all these wines at Eric’s shop by clicking on this Vintages link:
1991 Vina Tondonia Blanco Reserva ***1/2 (white) $28- You would never know it was a wine of that age, has the freshness and integrated acidity that will surprise, minerals and crispness in abundance.
2000 Vina Gravonia Criaza Blanco ***1/2 (white) $28- Reminds me of a very fresh and dry Manzanilla, like a sherry with super acidity, salinity, and nuttiness. I really enjoyed this wine.
2000 Vina Tondonia Rosado Gran Reserva ***** (rosé) $28- Forget what you know about rosé…magically rich, earthy mushroom qualities, orange rind, almonds, mind blowing! I bought some bottles to tow home with me.
2004 Crianza Vina Cubillo **** $28- Light brown color, could mistake for a classic claret, stiff tannins, licorice, tobacco leaf. Silky, with a long exotic flavorful finish.
2002 Vina Bosconia Reserva ** (red) $38- More cherry fruit aromas in the initial aromatics compared to the other earthier and mushroomier wines, but this wine disappointingly thins out and it reminds me of a mid-seventies weak vintage Bordeaux on last legs. It has a charm, but not as interesting as the rest.
2000 Vina Tondonia Reserva ****1/2 (red) $45 – Brown color, tobacco and cloves and herb garden in the nose, muted floral aromatic peaking through, just a really unique wine of intense complexity and deep pleasure. I bought this too.
1991 Vina Bosconia Gran Reserva ***** (red) $100 – An amazing light brick color from center to edge, this wine reminds me of classic Bordeaux I have tasted from great years in the ’60s. The wine, now 20 years old, along with the muted and aged fruit aromas adds mint and licorice and a touch of prune, just to create complexity with a velvety silky package. It is simultaneously a delicate wine with powerhouse complexity. The wine has such a rich mouthfeel and remains totally elegant too. The flavors and acidity wash over your palate in total unison creating a spectacular tasting sensation. This is a wine to put on your bucket list before your taste buds start eroding. Liquid magic!
I can not recommend these wines strongly enough. They will provide the curious and adventurous wine drinker, that does not rank big rich fruit ahead of nuances of age or youthful construction, many exciting glasses of wine.