Mon 10 Jun 2013

Rioja: Sisters Doing It For Themselves, Part 2


María José López de Heredia at The Society's recent Rioja tasting.

María José López de Heredia at The Society’s recent Rioja tasting.

Read part one here.

If one bodega can claim to be an expert in the production of aged whites it’s López de Heredia. Sisters María José and Mercedes have never been averse to ageing whites in oak for as long as reds and to taste the wines is a revelation.

Their 100% viura 2003 Viña Gravonia Blanco, a vintage for whites which María told me, ‘you would normally run a mile from,’ was fabulous. ‘This was one of the longest harvests in our history. We started picking on September 24th and didn’t finish until October 23rd. There had been a heatwave from May to August and we wanted to let the vines make the most of the September rains,’ she explained.

Preconceptions about white Rioja being oxidised and oaky are immediately dispelled. Dry with a lovely fragrant nuttiness and complex honeyed finish the wine still has an enthralling zip of acidity and extraordinary length. Despite the ultra-traditional nature of the wines, they are ideally suited to modern cuisine and you could happily serve this alongside Asia-style cooking as well as the more conventional seafood or chicken dishes.

The remarkable cellars of López de Heredia.

The remarkable cellars of López de Heredia.

Vina Tondonia Blanco RiojaThe bodega bottles its best wines under the Viña Tondonia label, Tondonia being the 100-hectare vineyard on the right bank of the Ebro river and one of the finest in the Haro region. The 1996 Reserva Blanco shown on the night, a blend of 90% viura and 10% malvasia has spent ten years in barrel in the historic cobwebby vaults of the bodega. This long ageing imparts an ethereal quality to the wines which have enticing smoky, caramel aromas and intense, vivid flavours that last and last. That a 17-year-old wine can still taste so fresh is remarkable.

Somewhat paradoxically for a bodega renowned for its long-lived wines, María José says that the point of wine is not that it should last for ever, ‘it’s far better to drink and enjoy wine,’ she says, ‘this is why we appreciate members of The Wine Society as we can see that they take pleasure from our wines.’

From the labels on the bottles which still show the grandfather’s hand-drawn image of the bodega, unchanged since around 1885, little else has changed at the winery. Though they respect technology they haven’t introduced much in the way of new technology, ‘what we do works, so we don’t want to change things,’ María says. ‘We grow our vines in an old-fashioned way, we ferment in traditional 160-year-old vats and use 100-year-old presses. We don’t filter and just use egg white for fining. Ours are very natural wines.’ María doesn’t like the terms ‘natural, organic or biodynamic’ as she believes classifying your wines in this way limits them.

‘What we do is labour-intensive but we believe that making wine is a craft and we are still working to realise the project that our great grandfather started in 1877.’

Joanna Goodman
News Editor

Categories : Spain, Wine Tastings


  1. John Cruse says:

    The Wine Society Dining Club toured their cellars some years ago. They are incredible. Your photo just hints at the amazing cobwebby/mould coated walls and ceilings. The antithesis of the squeaky clean modern winery – and yet the wines are truly great authentic old fashioned Rioja. At a recent WSDC tasting the Rioja Reserva Vina Tondonia Blanco 1996 (now off the list) was sensational and earned top marks in the tasting.

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