Monday, March 28, 2011

López de Heredia Across Five Decades

It is not often that one gets to taste a variety of the older Riojas of López de Heredia, but last week at the David Bowler portfolio tasting I had the distinct pleasure of doing exactly that. Monica Nogues, a López de Heredia ambassador, was pouring wines spanning five decades and I lingered for quite some time.

It's funny, I have an ongoing argument with myself about which López wines I like the most. Originally it was the whites, then for a good chunk of time it was the reds, and the past few months I've been thinking that it's the rosé that dollar for dollar is their best wine. All of the wines poured at this tasting were excellent, but I came away swooning over the white wines. I suppose it's silly to try to choose favorites with wines of this caliber.

I very much enjoyed the newly released 2001 Gravonia and 1993 Tondonia Reserva - these are delicious white wines that show a lot of complexity and are every bit as much of the house style as the older Gran Reservas. The young red reservas didn't move me as much. I keep hoping that the 2000 Tondonia Reserva will take on a little mid-palate depth, but so far it hasn't. The new red Gran Reservas are from the 1991 vintage and I've tasted them several times now and enjoyed them but each time I find them to show more vanilla wood flavors than I am used to, and I think they're a bit young to drink right now.

The old white wines...fantastic, moving, haunting. I particularly loved the 1973 Tondonia Gran Reserva and the 1964 Tondonia Gran Reserva. These are wines of tremendous aromatic complexity and distinction, and they still feel fresh and vibrant. There really is nothing else like them, as far as I know. The '73 was absolutely perfectly balanced and I loved the salted caramel tones and the way they played with the wine's mineral essence. But the '64, this was an absurdly good wine, with a pungently salty nose, like wet sand on the beach. It was fragrant in the mouth too and all the way down the throat. A restore-your-faith-in-wine kind of wine.

Of the reds, I particularly enjoyed the Tondonia Gran Reservas from 1981 and 1980. The '81 had a very strong mineral component that nicely complimented the earthy stewed fruit, and the 1980 was a haunting wine, a real highlight. It's musky perfume and incredibly detailed palate really stayed with me. But again it was the wines from the 1960's that truly knocked me over. The 1968 Tondonia Gran Reserva was a bit shy on the nose at first, but then blossomed with blood orange and floral aromatics, and the wine was so fresh and expansive on the palate, so well structured and gentle.

I had a little López de Heredia revelation with the 1964 Tondonia Gran Reserva. I will admit that as much as I love the wines, I've never understood them in terms of terroir. It's not that I doubt them in this way, but I've understood the wines in terms of the style of wine making. I just don't know much about Rioja, I guess. But when drinking this wine, the 1964, I finally got it (I think). The thing is, the wine smelled exactly like the white wine from 1964! The nose showed the same pungent salty beach sand aromatics, there was no mistaking it. Does it usually take 48 years for the whites and the reds to converge aromatically? Is this the essence of the Tondonia terroir, this marine salted caramel package of aromas? I think I should probably drink these wines again to further investigate these issues, you know, in the name of science.


Sharon said...

Nice work! I drool over this stuff, and my computer is popping and sparking from said drool as we speak.

Though you've cleverly left out any but the most clipped mention of your favorite, the rosé (I am drinking 2000s in such quantities as to keep the curtains closed from the shocked gaze of the neighbors).

Unknown said...

Lucky guy, I've never had the opportunity to drink any of their really old wines.

I've also flirted with each of their styles - luckily we don't have to choose. Hard to go wrong with the rose on value alone though. Did you try any of the Bosconias?

the vlm said...

As long as you view them as Sherry and not wine in the Burgundy/Loire/Barolo sense, then they're great.

Redbird said...

(not sure about the sherry comment), but GORGEOUS post, good to see you there, '73 white was my absolute favorite too.

Anonymous said...

Wine, to some or to all of us sometimes, is taste, and we sort of fool ourselves into believing that's objective. But other times, at least to some of us, wine is biography, and no wine has a nobler biography than LdH. I'd drink it anytime and feel (momentarily) like there's something elegant and even just about the universe.

Joe Manekin said...

The VLM strikes again! That argument makes some sense given the age of their bodega and their (120+ year old) wood fermenters, 30+ year old barrels, etc. Definitely a serious collection of yeasts in this amazing winery.

Neil, there are some marine fossils in that calcareous clay. Tondonia is a 100 he vineyard, 80 of which are planted. A beautiful vineyard, horse-shoe shaped, with an incredible view of the Sierra Cantrabria mountains as well as the town of old town of Briñas. Different soil types, more stony and alluvial as you approach the river, and with some decidedly sloped sections. I'll likely do another LdH post within the next several weeks to re-cap a visit there a few weeks ago.

As for wines, I'll respectfully disagree on the 00 Tondonia reserva: to me this is the best wine for drinking and ageing, dollar for dollar, in their line-up right now. Right up there with the Tondo Blanco reserva.

Thanks for the post.

Do Bianchi said...

"In the name of science": isn't it incredible, the unique place that LdH holds in the world of wine, and in our hearts and on our palates? Emidio Pepe and Valentini are the only estates that come to mind when I try to conceive the "class" of winery embodied by LdH. Man, would have loved to taste those wines with you.

Paul I. said...

I've been fortunate enough that through my job I've tasted a fair amount of vintages of Lopez de Heredia wines and they certainly are pretty mind bending, fascinating wines. Fortunately our local distributor of LdH wines has a huge backlog of vintages and the next time I go looking for keepers that is right up there on top of the list. Just stumbled to your page looking for info on Catherine and Pierre Breton, ended up staying for a good hour. Well done sir.