R. López de Heredia: Ready When You Are

13 Oct

I write a wine column for my law school newspaper.  Unfortunately, they only pay me $10 per column, which will hardly pay for a bottle of good Portuguese Douro.  I will say that there are a number of great wines out there in the $10-$15 range, but there are a HUGE number of even better wines at the $15+ range.

Short of taking out more in loans, a grad student has few options for financing an education in wine.  Luckily, one of those options is hosting wine tastings where everyone chips in for some really great bottles.

So, I’ve hosted a few tastings for friends and for fellow staffers at the Nota Bene, and we’ve been able to try some delicious, delicious wines (and cheese… and patê…).  The first was themed “Summer Reds” and featured lighter reds (such as Beaujolais and Pinot, including a pretty wonderful pinot–the 2006 Radio-Coteau “Savoy” from the Anderson Valley of California).  The second was themed “Spanish Wines”, which is the topic of this particular blog post, and the third will be based around both red and white Burgundies.

We tasted a number of great Spanish wines: three whites and four reds.  The four reds were further subdivided into two groups: two bottles from Rioja, and two from Ribera del Duero.  One in each pair was “Old World”-style (generally aged longer before being released, less assertive oak, leaner) and the other was “New World”-style (released after a fewer number of years, more assertive oak, bigger and fuller profiles).

(I purchased these bottles from Addy Bassin’s MacArthur Beverages in Georgetown, which is an amazing wine shop with some really great wines and consultants.)

I will eventually post a link to my Nota Bene article from this week once it becomes available: it has more detailed notes of each of the wines.  (UPDATE: see post here.)  I wanted to focus on two of the wines in particular, both of which are from 1999 and both of which are from the iconic Rioja producer–R. López de Heredia.

López de Heredia is a rock in the midst of great changes in Rioja and the rest of the winegrowing world.  But Eric Asimov of The New York Times notes that López de Heredia is, by not changing, also part of a newer movement whereby smaller, younger wine producers are bucking the “modern” and large-scale trends and going for smaller, biodynamic, and artisanal.  While López de Heredia can’t really be classified as small, its methods are certainly artisanal.  They take their time and release their wines only when they are ready.

Take the 1999 Viña Gravonia Crianza, which is the newest release of this particular wine.  Rioja’s rules require that Crianzas–the youngest of the three traditional classifications–be aged for a minimum of two years, at least one of which must be in oak.  The Viña Gravonia, made of 100% Viura, is aged for four years in oak and the remainder in the bottle!


Note the gorgeous burnt straw color.   It started with a slight honeyed nose but also featured peach.  It tasted of almond and butterscotch, with a hint of oxidation that displayed itself as a sharpness on the finish.  It was the oxidation that had me worried: oxidation is the norm in older white wines and can be a turn-off for many people.  However, the Viña Gravoñia was the favorite white of the evening and the second-favorite wine overall.  It is an outstanding, idiosyncratic wine, and one that is available for about $25.99.  (My fellow legal-wine blogger, Shea, reviews the 1989 Reserva vintage of this wine.)

Next was the 1999 Viña Tondonia Red Reserva, which is made from 75% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacho, and 10% Mazuelo and Graciano.  This was aged for five and a half years in oak and the remainder of the time in bottle.  It was lean, restrained, and light.  Its pepper, herbs, and acid actually reminded me of a nice Burgundy.  People had fun with this one at the tasting, comparing its color to “vampire blood” and its nose to “cinnamon and pink peppercorn.”  It would make a great food wine, but also is light enough to be enjoyed alone (in copious quantities).  It clocks in at around $41.99.


(Thanks to the R. López de Heredia website for these great pictures!)

These wines are great values–affordable and elegant.  You would do well to pick up a bottle or two if you come across them.  After all, don’t you owe it to them?  They’ve been waiting a long time to be drunk.


One Response to “R. López de Heredia: Ready When You Are”

  1. Shea October 16, 2009 at 6:28 pm #

    Nice writeup. I love Heredia’s wines. I think the 1999 is a lot more ‘standard’ than the 89 – meaning more wine-like. I want to try it now and compare against the totally crazy 89 I had.

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