While a winemaking revolution has raged around them, a handful of bodegas have stayed true to the traditions that made Rioja famous. Perhaps the best known of these in the United States is López de Heredia.
Little about López de Heredia has changed in the more than 130 years since its founding. It occupies the same historic cellars and unlike most of their competitors, which are now owned by outside investors, López de Heredia is owned—and every detail of its operation is handled—by the family who founded it.
Most Rioja wineries buy grapes from dozens of small growers; but not López de Heredia. They own every inch of the vineyards that supply their wines. Only natural yeasts are used and there is no filtration. They still age their greatest wines in wood for six to eight years and even make their own barrels.
The bodega is now in the capable hands of the family’s youngest generation—Maria José, Mercedes and Julio César. Yet, still nothing changes. In fact, these three are as philosophically committed to the winery’s traditions as their parents and grandparents were before them.
López de Heredia produces a number of wines, including Crianzas and Reservas—red, white and rosé. But the winery’s glories are its Gran Reservas.
Like Vega Sicilia with its Unico, López de Heredia only makes Gran Reservas in great years—of which there have been but twenty since 1890.
López de Heredia Gran Reservas appear under two different labels, Tondonia and Bosconia, each named for a vineyard the family purchased nearly a century ago.
The Tondonia red Gran Reservas are revered for their complex fruit and their structure. Though the grape make-up varies from vintage to vintage, a typical blend is about 75% Tempranillo, with the balance Mazuelo and Graciano.
The Bosconia red Gran Reservas typically spend a year less in wood and are made from a higher percentage of Tempranillo. Bosconias tend to be bigger, softer and earthier than Tondonias.
In most great years, both Bosconia and Tondonia are made—offering an intriguing contrast in styles that reminds us of the stylistic duel between CUNE’s Imperial and Viña Real. If a comparison is to be drawn, Tondonia resembles Imperial in its refinement and elegance, and Bosconia mirrors Viña Real in its lushness.
While the family’s best reds are divided evenly between the Bosconia and Tondonia labels, the finest whites wear just one label: Tondonia. Many say that the Tondonia whites are López de Heredia’s greatest achievements.
Made from 85% Viura and aged for a minimum of six years in old barrels, they have a distinctive opulence and richness that increases as the wines age, bringing out notes of honey, butterscotch, hazelnut, often with a Graves-like character. But even after decades in bottle, they maintain their freshness.
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