When my pal Deetrane read the post from the other day about tasting the 1976 Lopez de Heredia Bosconia, he was flooded with good memories. Deetrane and his wife P-trane went to Spain for their honeymoon and visited several wineries. He says that the single best experience they had was their unplanned visit to López de Heredia. So sit back and enjoy as guest-poster Deetrane takes us on a trip down the twisted pathways of his memory lane:
P-trane and I are on the first winery tours of our honeymoon, after several days and nights wending our way from bistro to parador to cava bar across
Great prices in the shop though. €2.50 for Crianza, €5.50 for Reserva, €8.50 for Prada Eneo (Gran Reserva), €12.00 for Torre Muga! We bought three bottles.
Right next door, the venerable La Rioja Alta. Three Euro-coaches in the parking lot, versus Muga’s fifty. A very good sign. No English signage, much less an English-language tour. An even better sign. As the Spanish-speaking tour guide describes the traditional steps such as fining with egg-whites, we nod sagely (if uncomprehendingly) having just seen all the same stuff at Muga five minutes earlier. But a real, working cooperage, as opposed to Muga’s costumed-mannequin diorama (think Museum of Natural History, or better yet, that crazy robotic contraption in the basement of the Mormon Tabernacle). Even better prices in the shop, with wines from across the parent company’s brands.
A year or so later we opened the 1994 La Rioja Alta Rioja Gran Reserva 890 we purchased there for under €10.00. A revelation – the first time I had tasted a perfectly integrated, balanced, aged red wine of any kind. It was the most memorable, sumptuous and absorbing wine I had tasted in my life, notwithstanding what came next.
Three tour buses were still too many for what P-trane and I were I the mood for. We started to stroll through the streets of the old, mostly low-slung, very urban warehouse style winery district of Haro. We became fascinated by the numerous small patches of old, gnarly Tempranillo vines, planted right between the endless brick, stucco and concrete winery buildings.
We’d gone not more than 20 yards from La Rioja Alta when we heard loud banging shop noises coming from behind set of huge oak doors across the street. We ambled towards the noise into a courtyard, saw that the doors were ajar, and walked in on two coopers in overalls. They were busily banging wrought iron rings, American and French oak planks into barrels and toasting them over open flames that were shooting up from perfectly round, manhole-like openings in the floor. The coopers were friendly, and waved us closer.
Within minutes, a door opened and a short, very mod, thirty-something woman with chic rectangular glasses and a spiky short haircut came in with two fair-skinned, forty-something men (there she is in the picture, courtesy of Alice Feiring). Without prompting, she flashed us a sympathetic glance and said, in perfect English, “I’m Maria de López de Heredia. These guys are economists from the University of Barcelona – friends of my father’s. Let me just ask them if they mind you coming with us.”
We held our breath. No, they wouldn’t mind, came back the answer!
The next minute we were descending through a metal casement door heading directly underneath the sprawling winery complex, down down down over tiny uneven steps, lower and lower in the bowels of López de Heredia. The walls literally turned black and fuzzy with penicillin mold. Maria gesticulated and pointed and jabbered in Spanish, pausing to translate what seemed like every 14th word.
Who needed translation?
It was…. Insane. With no natural light, a faint bulb here and there was all there was to illuminate row upon row of barrels, a seemingly boundless catacomb of vaulted corridors. On the floor were smooth metal rails, just slightly protruding above slippery cobblestones. After a while we could see faint sparkling lights in the distance. We came upon several cellar workers who were bottling a 1995 Gran Reserva. It was now May of 2003, mind you. This wine was being bottled after some two years in large wooden casks and another five years in barrel. The workers wore hardhats with sputtering sodium lamps, like spelunkers, and thick, black rubber gloves and aprons and reminded me of the Mario Brothers and undertakers at the same time.
One of them was arranging empty green bottles on a small wheeled metal tray sitting on the rails built into the floor. The other was filling the bottles one at time with a little swiveling spigot. As each tray of 12 bottles filled up, they would roll it a few feet to the third guy, who would pick the bottle up and position it in a corking device and pull down on a lever. Each time, he would be liberally squirted with wine – hence the heavy rubber gear. Each guy had a glass of wine standing around the work area, the flicker of the headlamps just enough to see that the Gran Reserva was a crystal clear ruby color. It was 10:15 a.m.
A few minutes latter, we saw bright movie-set lighting further down one of the corridors, this one racked with endless rows of bottled wine. A photo shoot was in progress, and the crew was standing amidst hundreds of bottles on the floor in between the racks, like giants in a sea of penguins.
“Oh, that’s So-and-So,” Maria casually tossed out, “He’s, like, the most famous television director in Spain, but we’re old friends so he’s doing my new brochure pictures today.”
We come to a gigantic, rolling oak door, at least 12 feet high. After several tense (for us) minutes futzing with keys and jostling the padlock, Maria hauls aside this hulking door an we are met with an amazing site. In the center of what can only be described as a dungeon room is a massive round table made from the lid of a giant oak fermenting tank. Standing upright in the middle of that, sort of as a centerpiece, is an old, dried out vine trunk. About six feet above that, a dangling brass chandelier. Over decades, a thick, black rope of pure penicillin mold has climbed down from the ceiling, wrapped itself around the chandelier, and continued on its way to envelope the centerpiece. (Photos courtesy of Crush). All around us are huge concrete bins, with the remaining stocks of winery owned vintages, going all the way back to the beginning (1877). The oldest vintages are mostly piles of mold, dust, broken glass and empty bottles, but Maria assures us there’s still probably some good stuff in there – but no one has the guts to go in and find out!
López de Heredia makes wines from several vineyards, although their most heralded wines come from two vineyards - Tondonia and Bosconia. Bosconia makes only red Rioja, and is pure Tempranillo. The Burgundy-shaped bottle hints at the style of the wine. Tondonia makes white and red, and is a blended wine. The Bordeaux-shaped bottle hints at the style.
Maria turns on the lights and we see platters of Serrano ham, and fresh bread, and… wine glasses! Woo hoo! We tasted flight after flight, starting with some very old Tondonia’s This is WHITE wine, mind you. The oldest we tasted may have been a 1955, followed by a 1961, a 1968, and a 1970. Then we tasted a bunch of old Bosconia, the oldest being a 1954 or so. P-trane and I had never tasted wine this mature or this traditionally made. I can’t really describe it, but needless to say it was around this time that I started drinking a lot more wine, generally!
We leave our car in the Muga parking lot and hop into Maria’s beat up rat-trap Volkswagen and head to one of her regular bistro’s in the center of Haro near the Plaza Mayor.
By about three o’clock, everyone is pissed drunk, Maria has now been translating, drinking and gesticulating for five hours, and it is time to, gulp, drive back to the winery and get our car. We all kissed on both cheeks and said our goodbyes, thanking Maria and television director and the Good Lord for this incredible day. Every year, when we get our Christmas card from Maria, we think about the next time we’ll taste a 1955 Vina Bosconia.
I encourage everyone to visit them. When we were there, there was no organized visiting or tasting at the winery. Maria, who is apparently now the CEO (she had been the head of Marketing) commissioned an ultra-modern tasting building by architect Zaha Hadid, described on Wikipedia as a “notable Iraqi-British
deconstructivist architect.” Yowza.