For those, like me, who have been foraging on "foreign" markets in search of the traditional Rioja wines of the venerable R. Lopez de Heredia estate, there's some good news. The wines will very soon be available right here in the state controlled market of Pennsylvania, courtesy of the folks at Vine Street Imports — a major score for them, I must say. The good news comes with qualifications, of course. I seriously doubt you'll see any Lopez de Heredia showing up on the shelves at your local state store; as of now (and most likely in perpetuity), the wines are all being treated as special liquor order (SLO) items. While that's not very friendly to consumers who would like to purchase a bottle or two for enjoyment at home, it at least means that the wines will be available to restaurateurs around town. I, for one, will be more than happy to see them show up on lists and, more importantly, to be able to drink them at non-BYOB spots.
To help usher in the new era in style, Maria José Lopez de Heredia came to town. I made it to last week's evening session at Tria Fermentation School, where Maria expounded upon the history of her family estate and poured one or two of their recent releases. Here's what we tasted:
- Rioja Crianza "Viña Gravonia" Blanco, R. Lopez de Heredia 2000
- Rioja Reserva "Viña Tondonia" Blanco, R. Lopez de Heredia 1991
- Rioja Gran Reserva "Viña Tondonia" Blanco, R. Lopez de Heredia 1987
- Rioja Gran Reserva "Viña Tondonia" Rosado, R. Lopez de Heredia 2000
- Rioja Crianza "Viña Cubillo" Tinto, R. Lopez de Heredia 2004
- Rioja Reserva "Viña Tondonia" Tinto, R. Lopez de Heredia 2000
- Rioja Gran Reserva "Viña Tondonia" Tinto, R. Lopez de Heredia 1991
- Rioja Gran Reserva "Viña Bosconia" Tinto, R. Lopez de Heredia 1991
Rather than loading up on tasting notes or recreating the wheel by recounting the history of the estate, I'm just going to share some of the points that captured my attention (and/or made me smile) during Maria José's presentation. "Quotes" are her words, at least as close as my note-taking allowed; [brackets] are my interpretations/adjustments as deemed necessary, content in (parentheses) is just me adding my own peanut gallery comments.
- "Wines should talk by themselves" [speak for themselves].
- "I'm famous in the Rioja for talking too much." (Indeed, she barely came up for air during her 90-minute presentation. And yes, that was a good thing.)
- "We consider ourselves vinemakers, not winemakers."
- All replanting and cloning at the estate is done via selection massale.
- Maria José's great-grandfather was born in Chile and left for Spain in 1870 to attend Jesuit school.
- The casks used for fermentation at the estate are as much as 140 years old. Rarely if ever replaced, they are maintained and repaired as necessary by the estate's team of three coopers, who also build all of the aging barrels used at the winery.
- All of the wines are fermented on their native yeasts.
- 730,000 kilos of grapes were harvested at Lopez de Heredia in 2010. Maria considers it a great vintage. "It will be 20 years before we release this year's Gran Reservas."
- Wines are racked two or three times per year, and never filtered. Egg white fining (heads-up, vegans!) is used only when necessary.
- The burgundy-style bottle used for Viña Bosconia is meant to signify a wine of more body, less finesse, but based on the idea of body, Maria was careful to point out, of 100 years ago, when Burgundy was often richer than Bordeaux.
- "Do you say toponomia?" (I'm not poking fun, far from it; I loved the question and wish more people would.)
- The name Gravonia comes from Graves, in Bordeaux. In the early history of the estate, many of the wines were named or labeled using toponyms and terminology borrowed from Bordeaux.
- All of the white wines begin fermentation with the skins and pips in the vat for a period ranging from 24 hours to 2-3 days, sometimes even 5-6, depending on the vintage.
- The Viña Tondonia Rosado is made with spicy foods in mind. (Think chorizo.)
- Likewise, the Viña Cubillo Tinto was born specifically to accompany tapas.
- Only 31 vintages of Gran Reserva have been released in the 130-year history of the estate.
- A library of old vintages is maintained at the winery but bottles are never re-corked. "Wine is not meant to last forever."