The Wines of López de Heredia: 1954 – 1998

1995 Viña Gravonia Blanco Crianza


1988 Viña Tondonia Blanco Reserva


1981 Viña Tondonia Blanco Gran Reserva   


1964 Viña Tondonia Blanco Gran Reserva


1998 Viña Bosconia Reserva


1998 Viña Tondonia Reserva


1987 Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva


1976 Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva


1976 Viña Bosconia Gran Reserva


1970 Viña Bosconia Gran Reserva


1964 Viña Bosconia Gran Reserva


1954 Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva


López de Heredia is one of the historic bodegas in Rioja, with a rich lineage dating back well over a century. The estate produces age-worthy, traditional Riojas of the highest level. These are among my favorite Riojas, and I have been fortunate to drink more than my fair share of the wines over the years. A few months ago I had the opportunity to taste an extensive collection of older vintages with importer Doug Polaner and proprietor Maria Jose López de Heredia when López was in New York to present the estate’s new releases. Actually the term “new releases” is a bit of an oxymoron when it comes to the wines of this bodega, as included in the group was the 1981 Tondonia Blanco Gran Reserva! Needless to say it was a great privilege to taste pristine examples of these wines, which were brought over from the estate’s cellar for this tasting. In today’s frantic world I can only applaud an estate that goes to the time and expense of cellaring wines, waiting to release them only when they are ready to drink.

“It is impossible to talk broadly about vintage characteristics in Rioja because the region is vast and encompasses so many different microclimates that generalized statements are of little value,” says López.  “In addition, in Rioja we have a tradition of blending wines from different vintages, so in the end what really matters most is the quality and style of the producer. The exception to blending is our Gran Reservas which consist of 100% wine from the declared vintage. Naturally what makes these Riojas great, and therefore deserving of the Gran Reserva designation, is that they don’t need any adjustment with the wines of other vintages.”

The estate produces two whites, Viña Gravonia which is 100% Viura, and Viña Tondonia, which is predominantly Viura with 15% Malvasía. The Gravonia sees two years of oak aging followed by extended bottle aging, while the Tondonia sees four years in barrel and is also aged in bottle for several years prior to being released. In exceptional vintages a Gran Reserva, which spends six years in barrel, is bottled.  The whites see anywhere between 12-24 hours of skin contact during fermentation which gives them much of the structure of red wines. They will show their best if they are given some air in a decanter and served in large glasses at cellar temperature rather than chilled. Simply put, these are among the world’s most unique white wines. 

López de Heredia is perhaps most famous for its great reds, in particular the Gran Reservas Viña Tondonia and Viña Bosconia it releases in top vintages. Both wines are made from field blends of predominantly Tempranillo with smaller percentages of Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano.  Garnacha gives the wines more fruit and higher alcohol while the Mazuelo and Graciano provide the acidity that allows the wines to age for decades. The varietals are fermented together and vinified in the classic, traditional style, with long fermentations. The Gran Reservas will spend anywhere from eight to nine years in American oak after which they are aged in bottle for a further eight to nine years at the estate’s cellars prior to being released. Although the estate periodically re-releases wines from its extensive library the bottles are not re-conditioned in any way and represent a unique opportunity to taster older wines of unparalleled provenance. With proper cellaring both the white and reds are capable of aging gracefully for decades, so attempting to assign drinking windows seems somewhat superfluous.

“Both the Tondonia and Bosconia vineyards have similar soils, but it is the altitudes and exposures that are different,” adds López. “In reality Tondonia is a large plot so it has many different exposures, but in general the wines from Tondonia are riper owing to the lower altitude of the vines and the higher percentage of Garnacha. The Viña Bosconia is made from vines planted at a higher altitude and contains a larger percentage of Tempranillo. These two elements combine to produce wines that are more structured, with livelier color, higher acidity and greater aging potential. Because the fruit ripens later at Bosconia the harvest there typically takes place a week or two later than in Tondonia.” 

The 1995 Viña Gravonia Blanco Crianza is a great way to start the afternoon. It is a captivating wine, with a gorgeous perfumed nose and notes of flowers, peaches, apricots, smoke, spices, minerals and roasted nuts that develop in the glass with soft, supple personality and wonderful length on the palate. At 11 years of age, it appears to be miraculously youthful. 92/Anticipated maturity: 2006-? Our first Viña Tondonia Blanco, the 1988 Reserva, is somewhat less generous and open, displaying an understated, somewhat reticent personality. It offers notes of roasted nuts, smoke and subdued, delicate fruit with outstanding length, yet it is defined by a noticeably more compact frame and tends towards minerally and steely notes. It should drink well for at least another decade. 91/Anticipated maturity: 2006-2016.

The richly-colored 1981 1981 Viña Tondonia Blanco Gran Reserva captures the essence of this house’s wines. It is a wine of great complexity as well as contrasts. At once mature yet seemingly ageless, full-bodied yet somehow also miraculously delicate, it displays evolved sensations of earthiness, smoke, roasted nuts and dried apricots in a more oxidative style with great persistence on the palate and enough acidity to make me think it will drink well for at least another ten or so years. 93/Anticipated maturity: 2006-2016. The showstopper of this first flight was clearly the 1964 Viña Tondonia Blanco Gran Reserva. Blessed with an extraordinarily deep, intense yellow color as well as an exotic combination of candied orange peel, roasted nut, mineral and dried apricot flavors, it is a stunning effort. Though rich and lush on the palate it never comes across as being heavy and maintains a lovely sense of freshness that provides balance. Impossible to believe this is a 40+ year old wine. A great effort. 94/Anticipated maturity: 2006-?

We then moved into the first of several flights that showcased the estate’s reds. The medium-bodied 1998 Viña Bosconia Reserva opens with an irresistibly ethereal nose followed by well-defined notes of clean, focused cherry fruit, roses and licorice. It offers outstanding length, bright acidity and the structured personality that defines the wines of this vineyard. With some air it is drinking well today although patience will be highly rewarded. This is much more expressive than when last tasted a few months ago. 92/Anticipated maturity: after 2010. The 1998 Viña Tondonia Reserva is decidedly more flashy and opulent than the Bosconia in its heady suggestions of macerated cherries, licorice, menthol, tobacco, sweet oak and minerals. It offers wonderful purity and great length in a riper expression of Rioja that is more approachable today and hints at being slightly further along in its evolution than the Bosconia. 91/Anticipated maturity: 2006-? The 1987 Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva displays an expressive, perfumed nose with suggestions of cedar, leather, licorice, cocoa and minerals along with ethereal layers of sweet fruit that open in the glass. Although it offers excellent length and prominent acidity which will allow the wine to drink well for at least another decade its overall balance is not quite as outstanding as that of the best Gran Reservas in this tasting. 91/Anticipated maturity: 2006-?

Thirty years after the vintage the two 1976 Gran Reservas still fully express the qualities of their unique terroirs. The outstanding 1976 Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva offers a multitude of tertiary nuances in its suggestions of leather, licorice, coffee beans, earthiness and dried prunes on a medium-bodied frame of notable elegance. It is sweeter and riper than the Bosconia Gran Reserva, with a resonating note of alcoholic warmth that frames the long, lingering finish. 92/Anticipated maturity: 2006-? The seductive 1976 Viña Bosconia Gran Reserva is another ethereal beauty, revealing an expressive nose along with notes of earthiness, sweet perfumed fruit, cocoa, flowers and an occasional hint of white truffle that floats out of the glass. Fresher and more vibrant than the Tondonia Gran Reserva, it offers outstanding length and notable structure in an understated yet profound expression of Rioja. It is that rare wine that invites contemplation by engaging all of the taster’s senses. A great effort. 95/Anticipated maturity: 2006-? 

The tasting concluded with a series of wines from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, although the two 1976 Gran Reservas turned out to be pretty hard to top. The 1970 Viña Bosconia Gran Reserva is a captivating effort, with endless, well-defined nuances of pine, minerals and sweet red fruits that emerge from the glass in a breathtaking display of purity and class. It shows the extraordinary length, great expression and the pure breed of a truly great wine. 93/Anticipated maturity: 2006-? As is to be expected, the 1964 Viña Bosconia Gran Reserva is the most mature of these Bosconias. Although it opens with an evolved, ethereal nose of leather, cocoa, licorice and cedar it is more youthful on the palate where it offers layers of sweet dark fruit, excellent length and outstanding overall balance. 91/Anticipated maturity: 2006-? The 1954 Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva displays the classic Tondonia nose, with suggestions of tobacco, minerals and alcohol. Less expressive on the palate, it shows sweet, perfumed dark fruit with excellent length. Although all the elements of a great wine are there, for some reason they just don’t seem to come together and this bottle isn’t completely representative. 90+?/Anticipated maturity: 2006-?

-- Antonio Galloni