If you’re interested in wine, especially wine with age, do yourself a favor and seek out the opportunity to taste the wines of Lopez de Heredia, one of the great Spanish Rioja producers that has been making extraordinary stuff for about 135 years now. I had the pleasure of visiting their winery a few years ago, so was thrilled to see that Maria Jose Lopez de Heredia, great-granddaughter of the founder, would be in Atlanta and leading a tasting at Tower Wine and Spirits. That event was just last night, and it was another opportunity to experience the magic of this winery and the steadfast resoluteness of their approach to winemaking. The wines of Lopez de Heredia are different, unique, uncompromising and alluring. If you want simple sipping and easy enjoyment, these wines are not for you. If you relish experiencing history and being beguiled by a wine, Lopez de Heredia is worth seeking out.
At last night’s tasting, Maria spoke to the history of her family’s winery and their dedication to doing things as they’ve been done for over 100 years. The wines of Lopez de Heredia are made for aging – they spend up to 10 years in barrel before being bottled, and then many years more in bottle in the winery’s amazing underground cellars for further aging. Current releases range from 1991 to 2005. Yes, you read that right, the current releases go back more than two decades and have been sitting happily in Lopez de Heredia’s cool, humid, mold-covered (good mold!) cellars in Haro, Spain.
As we began tasting, Maria pointed out a few unique aspects of tasting these wines. The whites are best served close to room temperature (slightly chilled) to allow the flavors to fully show their stuff. I’ve had them served cold before, and it definitely does the wine a disservice. She does not recommend decanting, but opening the bottle up a bit in advance will not hurt. These wines do evolve in very interesting ways over the course of an hour or two hours or even two days. Maria also shared that the wines are really made for food – yes, they are fascinating by themselves, but paired with some cheese, some meats, the enjoyment increases. (On that note, Tower’s Stacey Sondek did a nice job putting together an array of Spanish cheeses, smoked fish, prosciutto and more to accompany the wine).
The wines tasted last night included two Lopez de Heredia whites and four reds. Very brief tasting notes are below, but the overwhelming takeaway is that these are stunning wines of complexity and character, unlike anything being made in America or anywhere else in the world really (on the red side, you’ll see some similarities to older Burgundies, but Lopez de Heredia certainly has its own very distinct terroir). Lopez de Heredia also focuses on their two primary vineyards – Tondonia and Bosconia – and contrasting the two demonstrates the degree to which the wines from nearby vineyards can diverge, even with very similar mixes of varietals in the bottle. Bosconia produces more earthy and powerful reds; Tondonia is lighter and more elegant.
I could go on and on about Lopez de Heredia, but will simply wrap up by repeating the recommendation that you seek out these wines for a singular experience. Tasting notes (rather haphazard, scribbled over conversation) follow, then a few photos to give you a feel for the winery and its evident sense of history in Rioja.
- 2002 R. López de Heredia Rioja Blanco Crianza Viña Gravonia – Nose is lovely but nearly indescribable (at least for me), on the way to waxy lanolin, some wild herbal field notes. Lush but dry, elegant, mid-palate stops short, but then merges into a long citrusy finish.
- 1991 R. López de Heredia Rioja Blanco Reserva Viña Tondonia – This bottle was on. A touch of caramel and sherry on the nose, with some aged gouda madness that I really dig. Rich and balanced with a beautiful mouthfeel, lingering acidity through the finish.
- 2005 R. López de Heredia Rioja Crianza Viña Cubillo – Smoked red pepper and dark cherry nose. Thin start, then fruit comes on strong, cherry and an almost astringent cranberry. A touch of pucker, but soft throughout.
- 2003 R. López de Heredia Rioja Reserva Viña Bosconia – On the way to Nuits-Saint-Georges… nose was reticent at first, then opened up, beautiful dark fruit on the palate, a bit of tart cranberry, deep though not overpowering at all.
- 2001 R. López de Heredia Rioja Reserva Viña Tondonia – Wow nose to get things rolling, nice fruit and floral rose, some musty funk behind. On the lighter/more elegant side for sure vs. Bosconia.
- 1994 R. López de Heredia Rioja Gran Reserva Viña Tondonia – Love this, brilliant at certain moments, not quite as much the next, constantly evolving in the glass. The nose veers to spectacular, that unusual LdH funk that is so unique. The wine has vibrancy, but feels old in a good way, elegant, aging gracefully.