November 5, 2010 R. López de Heredia
R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rosado
garnacho (60%), tempranillo (30%), viura
A ten-year old rosé and only released this year? This is not just any rosé. This is from a famed Rioja estate whose traditions go back 133 years. Fashions in winemaking come and go, but R. López de Heredia produces wine in time-honoured ways that include releasing a vintage only when sufficiently aged.
R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rosado Gran Reserva 2000
The colour is magic. Coppery peach and glowing. After ten years in the bottle it needs time to unfold. Even at that it is subtle, airy clean, surprisingly fresh. The aromas of fruit ripening in open air markets. On the palate dry and complex, elusive, perfect for some reflective moments before peppery chorizo. It’s far from the flirty rosés of summer. Rather a rosado for all seasons. $$
Tonight is the anniversary of the night in 1605 when Guy Fawkes attempted to burn down the English Parliament. Still commemorated in Newfoundland where I live, in what was once Britain’s oldest colony. Here we call it Bonfire Night, and the flames of countless bonfires dance into the black night skies, especially in rural parts of the island. In the city it is not the same. For me, a wine with a certain fire in its soul presents a worthy substitute.
The amazing Viña Tondonia is the bodega’s best known vineyard. Its 100 hectares of clay and limestone are set in a shell-like pocket of land almost circled by a bend in the river Ebro, and from them come the premier wines of the estate. The reds are the best known, but the whites and this rosé are also distinctive and highly prized. They go back to the time of founder Don Rafael López de Heredia Landeta.
Little has changed in subsequent years. Paramount importance given to the quality of the fruit. Meticulous attention to the vines. Manual harvesting. Only indigenous yeasts. Fermentation in large, oak tanks, some dating back to the founding of the bodega! Racking into barrels (again of American oak) to begin long maturation (up to ten years in the case of gran reserva). No filtering. Additional aging in the bottle prior to release of the wine to market.
It is the only Rioja winery to still include a cooperage. New barrels are hand-crafted, older tanks and barrels reconstituted. Both have always been treated with utmost respect. They are never scrubbed out after a wine is removed, for it is the build-up of tartrate crystals that help give these wines their character.
In the lead today is María José López de Heredia, fourth generation of the family, partnered with her sister Mercedes and her brother Julio César.
After all these years it is still very much a family affair. Despite the futuristic new tasting room (which, it should be noted, houses a carved oak and mahogany display stand from 1910) the wines continue to be made as they were at the time of their great-grandfather. After a period when many Rioja estates steered away from their roots, in an attempt to gain more international acceptance (i.e. more international wine critic points), several are seeing the folly of their ways, and coming to once again appreciate the approach by which Rioja wines were established. The wines of R. López de Heredia are among the region’s gold standards.