Traditional Rioja, the anti-en primeurs wine

Why pay en primeur prices for young Bordeaux that won’t arrive for two years? A case against en primeur certainly comes in the form of the traditional Riojas from R. Lopez de Heredia.

One of the few remaining traditionalists, Lopez de Heredia is known for outrageously long bottle aging in their legendary cellars prior to releasing the wine. Consider that their current release rosé is from the 2000 vintage (ten years older than the current release from Provence).

I tasted through their lineup at the recent tasting of their New York distributor, David Bowler. Unfortunately it as a mere tasting, not a drinking or a lingering. But it was deliciously fun snapshot. The table is always swamped with sommeliers and wine buyers as the wines are wildly popular, so much so, some of them were saying that the estate has raised prices recently as demand exceeds supply. Still, the wines are terrific values considering that apartment-dwellers with no wine storage can pick up beautifully aged bottles with ten, twenty or forty years of age on them. If Bordeaux pre-sales irk you, then consider Rioja, where some of the producers age the wine for you! (Given the success of Lopez de Heredia, I’m surprised that Rioja producers aren’t falling over themselves to go back to these traditional methods en masse.)

The whites are slightly oxidative, which makes them more often than not, wine geeks’ wines. The 1993 reserva (about $50) is an excellent place to start with nutty aroma yet freshness on the palate. But the apogee of the white experience comes with the much older Gran Reservas and the ’73, ’70 and ’64 (all from the Tondonia vineyard) were available. As you can see in the photo above, the colors started golden and got progressively richer. Unfortunately, I don’t have detailed tasting notes but they included jottings like mmm, truffly, nutty, amazingly fresh, long finish.

On the red side, the 2002 reserva from the Bosconia vineyard has brick red at the rim, notes of maturity, and elegance. About $30 a bottle, I subsequently poured this one in my NYU class and it polled about 80% popularity (actually, I correctly remembered later that this was one of our unanimously liked wines from the other evening). But the real big guns were the older Gran Reservas. My wife and I had the 1981 Bosconia Gran Reserva at our tenth anniversary dinner, over a year ago, and I remember it well. Such elegance and refinement all for about $150 in a restaurant (although that’s now about the retail price). And it continues to show very well today.

But the trio of rarity at the stand-up tasting were some Gran Reservas from the sixties. Again, no formal tasting notes, just impressions: puffs of tobacco, a note of salinity, a touch of red berry, and nutty note of faint oxidation. They were all drinking so well, with such poise, delicacy, and complexity. I was ready to pull up a chair right there and spend the rest of the afternoon evaluating and enjoying them; tasting them made my day.

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8 Responses to “Traditional Rioja, the anti-en primeurs wine”

  1. People are suckers, handing out money before they even get the wine pfft

    Its like in Vancouver real estate here people buying apartments before they even start the foundation LOL

  2. I used to pair wines with food every week at a restaurant/retailer type place.
    I often found it was the complete novices with fewer pre-conceived ideas about oxidation and aged whites etc. that enjoyed the Rioja whites in the style mentioned here.
    Also- a pairing that worked great – Our thick slabbed bacon and melted cheddar burger worked great with aged Spanish whites. Something about their oxidized yet tangy rich flavor worked with the oozing melted cheddar and salty bacon. A glass of traditional white Rioja and that burger made for a wonderful lunch.

  3. […] me encuentro con el último post del señor Tyler, en su concurrido blog Dr. Vino, hablando de los legendarios vinos de López Heredia Viña Tondonia. Vinos que salen maduros de la bodega, una práctica casi extinta. Entre otros por el costo que […]

  4. […] internet over the last 24 hours. Jacob's Creek…Spelling mistake clue to fake wine (Getreading) Lopez de Heredia…Traditional Rioja, the anti-en primeurs wine (Dr Vino) In China, Sinopec hunts whistle-blower (Global Times) Invited at Prowein and knowing […]

  5. […] And, of course, for the prices Bordeaux futures are fetching, you could get plenty of Bordeaux with a decade or two of cellar age on them. There’s slightly more risk with the provenance, but the rewards come a lot sooner than pre-release Bordeaux since the pleasures of older wines can be had immediately. Or, as we recently discussed, there’s always Lopez de Heredia. […]

  6. Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva 1991 and Reserva 2001 are two exceptional wines – the best two GR and R from López de Heredia for quite a while.

    That said, while I applaud the great LdH wines and the attention they get in the US, I’m always surprised that discussion of fine traditional Rioja is always restricted to three or four wineries on American wine boards, and that the general impression one gets is that classic Rioja is a vanishing breed, as modern-style Philistines overwhelm the opposition. It’s not really so.

    As I recently remarked on another board, one gets the impression that only a handful of bodegas are still making classic Rioja, i.e. not overextracted, not overoaked, not newoaked, more tertiary than just primary fruit. Yet, if you can find them, you’ll probably enjoy the styles of La Rioja Alta, CVNE (Reserva and up), Amézola de la Mora, Bretón, Beronia (Gran Reserva), Exeo, Hermanos Peciña, Valenciso (red and white), Finca La Emperatriz, Bodegas y Viñedos de la Marquesa (Valserrano, red and white), Lanzaga. Muga is outstanding again in traditional style (2004 Prado Enea, back to its roots) as in modern style.

    Re aging higher-alcohol Riojas and other tempranillo-based wines: there’s no reason for the time being to believe that they won’t. There are some 20 year-old 14% wines out there to prove it.

  7. […] “Traditional Rioja, the anti-en primeurs wine” “Which reds would you cellar beyond Bordeaux?” Permalink | Comments (0) […]

  8. […] wine. There are a handful of top traditional wineries in Spain and two of the most important are Lopez de Heredia and CUNE, both located in […]


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