Our sommelier, Carl, is extremely passionate about the López de Heredia Rioja Reserva Viña Tondonia, which we are featuring as our wine of the month for May.
He dives into detail about why this wine, from Rioja, a region in Spain, and crafted at López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Winery, is the benchmark for which all other wineries in the area aim for. The winery from which this wine is created and aged is one of the only family-owned wineries that has been passed down through four generations and 104 years, and it has remained adamant about their founder’s traditions.
Q: Can you tell us about López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Winery’s origin?
The winery was founded by Don Rafael López de Heredia in 1877 from the third oldest estate in Rioja. At that time, a vine disease was sweeping through Europe called phylloxera (it actually came through the United States, but the vines here were resistant to it, so it never caused an issue). However, when they brought some of the vines back from Europe, the disease started to attack all the vines throughout Europe, devastating their crops. Starting in 1863, it very quickly decimated all kinds of vineyards throughout all of France.
As a result, the wine schools in Bordeaux attempted to get some of their students to travel to places that were unaffected by phylloxera. They wanted them to try to figure out how to source grapes from an unaffected place in order to meet the demand of their production.
Lopez de Heredia, who was a very talented student who studied in Bordeaux, went with a group to Rioja. He fell in love with the land, as he was a Spaniard himself and it was part of his home. He noticed different aspects that were very similar to the Bordeaux region, such as the soil and location, and that it was an amazing place for the vines to grow.
He had such a vision for his own winery that he drew up architecture for what his winery was going to be, and he put it into action.
Q: What makes this wine so extraordinary?
This winery is the last of the major estates that started early that was never purchased by an umbrella company.
To this day, it is still owned by the Lopez family, and it’s the fourth generation that’s now in charge. They still do things in the exact same style and with the same vision that the founder did, having changed nothing and remained traditionalists. They have now completed the last stage of the founder’s vision for what the winery was going to be, 104 years later, and they stuck to the founder’s exact architectural drawings.
They built their own 20,000 square foot cellar with over 16,000 American barrels in it that age all the wine there until it’s ready for release. It is a massive family effort and an incredible undertaking.
Today the winery is world class, and it is one of the most prized estates in all of Rioja.
Q: What’s the wine’s flavor profile?
This style of wine, and all wines from the winery, are always aged in American oak barrels, as opposed to a lot of other European counterparts that usually age their wine in French barrels. Most times wineries will use brand new oak barrels to age the wine. This specific winery only uses used oak barrels. They make their own barrels with wood purchased from the Appalachian Mountains, and make the barrels according to their own specifications.They literally control everything that happens from the vine all the way to the bottle.
The oak aging mimics what you would do in a bottle aging. The fruit character starts to dry out a bit, because Spanish Rioja is from a warmer area of Spain, and so it has a lot of generous fruit character. However, because of that dry fruit character as well, you get a blending of dry fruit and ripe fruit in the same expression. It tends to be more ripe fruit driven, leaning more towards ripe and dry cranberry and strawberry, as well as some black cherry fruit.
The minerality from this wine is like baked clay or baked earth, with a hot earthy aroma coming off of it. The aroma contains a combination of hints of cumin, something similar to barbeque potato chips, and a rustic cowboy smell to it. There are also notes of dried violets and tobacco.
This wine is more powerful and tannic, and it should be paired with richer foods. It goes beautifully with roasted game, casseroles, stews, and even spaghetti Bolognese. Above all, it would be magnificent with a prime rib.
Q: If this wine was a personality, who would it be?
This wine would be the Signorelli's, who have also passed the Golden Steer Steakhouse down through the generations, because it’s a family-operated establishment that focuses on quality over quantity, has standards that have to be met and that are unwavering.
Even more so, the next generation that comes in understands that the previous generation worked very hard to get where they are today, and that there are some things that they want to hold sacred.
In a sea of corporate interests, they hold true to their family values.
Q: What is the wine’s vintage?
Rioja has different requirements for their aging. They produce a style of wine that is typically aged for a long time in oak barrels and then released to the market. The minimum requirement for the wine from Rioja is for it to be aged at least 3 years for Reserva level wine before it can be released, with at least one of those years being in a barrel.
For Lopez’s style, their minimum oak aging process for the Reserva is 6 years in an oak barrel, and then 4 years in a bottle, before releasing it to the market.
Therefore, this 2008 bottle is a current release.
Patience is a virtue, and for the exhilarating 2008 current release, every drop in the bottle was worth the wait. From the vines to the barrel aging process for which the winery buys wood from the Appalachian Mountains, all of the love, traditions, hard work, and prolonged aging are captured in this bottle - a mixture of berry fruitiness and earthy cowboy aromas.
Critic Reviews & Scores:
James Suckling (95) -
Lots of dried fruit with plum, light raisin, chocolate and toasted oak. Some balsamic undertones. White truffles and dried flowers. Medium body, creamy tannins and savory, balsamic undertones. Extreme and unique, as always.
Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (95) -
The nose of the 2008 Viña Tondonia Reserva is very elegant, fresh and with an herbal twist, starting to show the complexity of the aged wines that are sometimes still too young when they are released 10+ years from the vintage! The palate is medium-bodied, with lightness and depth, very classical with extra freshness and all that is needed for a long development in bottle. This is the more Tondonia of the two vintages I tasted side by side. There are notes of maple syrup, smoke, licorice and crisp fruit. The palate is more austere, crunchy and reveals the chalkiness of the soils. There's more definition and precision here. (LG)
K&L Notes (97) -
Tim Atkin MW "Tondonia's reds have been on an upward curve recently and are now at the same level as the bodega's world-class whites. This is a fine, elegant, savoury, low-alcohol blend of Tempranillo with 20% Garnacha and 5% each of Mazuelo and Graciano, combining summer berry fruit, racy acidity, granular tannins and an earthy, balsamic undertone. Good now, but this will develop further in bottle.