For the most part Spanish wine disgusts me. It rivals California and Australia in making overripe, modern, high alcohol wines with no sense of history or tradition. It wasn’t always this way. There are many glorious spanish wines, Sherry foremost among them. I also like Txakoli, some Rias Baixas, Godello from Valdeorra. Mostly white wine from the very northern regions. And I like traditional (versus modern) style Rioja with age. The best possible examples are found in the wines of Lopez de Heredia. This family run winery (Maria Jose is the current proprietress) has been making wine for 130 years in the town of Haro. Rioja wine as we know it has a strange and relatively short history. In the mid-19th century, when the phylloxera plague decimated the vineyards of France, winemakers from Bordeaux set up shop just over the Pyrenees in Spain. They brought their techniques, including extended barrel aging, and started a wine tradition which Lopez de Heredia extends today. If there is one thing that makes this winery, or bodega, stand out, it’s the fact that they do extended barrel aging followed by a long period of bottle aging for their reds, whites, and even rosés. The current rosé release is the 1997 vintage (and it is wonderful!). Rioja has about seven grape varieties allowed in the appellation, but the Tempranillo is the main player, followed by Garnacha (Grenache), Mazuelo (Carignan), Graciano. The whites are made with the Viura (also called Macabeo elsewhere in Spain), Malvasia and Garnacho Blanco grapes. Lopez de Heredia has four vineyards: Vina Tondonia (the family jewel), Vina Zaconia (which makes the wine called Vina Gravonia), Vina Bosconia, and Vina Cubillo.  Vina Tondonia makes the most elegant, long-lived wines, and Vina Cubillo makes the simplest, easiest drinking wines. All the wines ferment in large, old oak barrels with natural, native yeasts. Then they age in 225 liter barrels made from American oak (barrels made on their property, in their own cooperage) for 3 to 6 years. After being fined with egg whites, the wines are bottled, unfiltered, by hand directly from the cask. Then the wines undergo extensive bottle aging, especially the Gran Reservas. In Rioja, there are classifications which indicate how much age a wine has: Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva. Lopez de Heredia tends to outdo the minimum aging requirements by a large margin. I believe the most current Gran Reserva release is from 1987, 21 years old! I recently attended a luncheon featuring the wines of Lopez de Heredia. It was held at the Union Square restaurant B44. The highlights for me were the following:

Vina Bosconia 1981 (still tangy after all of these years)

Vina Tondonia Rosado 1997 (it was interesting to note how it deepened in color as it was exposed to air. Notes of cherries and hazelnuts)

 Vina Gravonia Blanco 1996 (spicy apple, fresh, not very oxidized)

 Vina Tondonia 1987 (cedar and cinnamon notes, pretty but still young)

 Vina Tondonia 1964 (earthy, funky, dried cherries and pits, tangy cherry fruit on the palate)

And not pictured, and my favorite of all time: the Vina Tondonia Blanco 1981 (nutty, rich, coffee and hazelnuts).

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