A Step Back in Time with Bodegas Lopez de Heredia

It’s always a pleasure when I have the opportunity to talk about wine forged in my personal favorite region – La Rioja, Spain.  Today we’re not just talking about Rioja, we’re talking about a vintner who has been producing gorgeous wines since 1877.  But Bodegas López de Heredia is more than just a producer whose been making wine for over 130 years —  their wines are intimately tied to Rioja’s terroir on a micro-level.

Bodegas Lopez de Heredia, Haro, Spain

Lopez de Heredia’s unique and modern tasting bar in the heart of sleepy Haro, Spain. Image courtesy Lopez de Heredia.

“López de Heredia excels in practicing an art form”

On a recent visit to Haro, Spain, I found Lopez de Heredia sitting within one of Rioja’s 3 sub-regions — Rioja Alta.  It’s here that the founder of the bodega, Don Rafael López de Heredia y Landeta found a perfect balance of elevation, climate and soil composition.  Heredia currently oversees 4 vineyard plots, each producing wines unique to the acreage the grapes come from (I’ll list these at the end of this article).

Aside from the terroir, “Lopez” adheres to a traditional winemaking style that few in the relatively vast Rioja region still attempt to capture.  Vines are grown with patience and care.  Come harvest, grapes are meticulously scrutinized and picked to ensure the finest quality fruit goes into a barrel.

The wine cellars themselves are steeped in history.  Built into ancient limestone caves, both red and white Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva’s grow bolder and better with age as soggy moss garnishes the bottles and barrels stored underground.

Bodegas Lopez de Heredia, Haro, Spain

Wines age into perfection for decades underground. Image courtesy Lopez de Heredia.

Producing a Crianza, Reserva, or Gran Reserva requires certain aging requirements, set in place by the Consejo Regulador DOCa Rioja.  A regulatory committee that oversees the Rioja regions’ wine growing practices.  Lopez takes this a step further.  Often aging their Reserva’s and Gran Reserva’s decades past the minimum age requirement.  This rounds both their red and white wines out.  The final products are lush, refined and not overly floral.  You can taste the earth in the fruit.

Everything about Heredia is done in a traditional style.  Even down to maintaining solely bush vines across their acreage.  The vintner refuses to fall into what most of Rioja has begun to do — line their vines on trellises and wires in order to mechanize and automate the harvesting process.  Wines are also aged in American oak, as opposed to French oak which so many newer Rioja bodegas have begun to utilize.

In an interview done with the New York Times, Ms. Lopez de Heredia proudly clings to the traditions the founders of the bodega instilled in each bottle of wine.  “Old vines, low yields and careful, gentle handling,” she says.

Wines from Lopez de Heredia always come from one of four vineyards.  The bodega prides itself on having never used a single grape from any other wine region or vineyard other than their own.

  • Viña Tondonia
    • White, Red and even Rosé wines are all produced from grapes grown at the most famous of Heredia’s vineyards, Tondonia.  White wines from Tondonia are notorious for being well rounded, but it’s their 2004 Reserva that’s my favorite. Elements of cracked spice, gritty nuts over almond vanilla tree fruit permeate the palate.  The Tondonia vineyard today is producing red Reserva’s, Gran Reserva’s, along with white Reserva’s and Gran Reserva’s and a Rose Gran Reserva.  White grape varieties are Viura and Malvasía, with the reds often being blends of Tempranillo, Mazuelo, Garnacha and Graciano.
  • Viña Bosconia
    • This vineyard plot only produces red Reserva’s and Gran Reserva’s.  The current vintages being distributed are big bodied with rich black fruit and cold limestone minerals. Both are excellent.
  • Viña Cubillo
    • And now for the younger wines.  The Crianza’s (only reds from Cubillo) are aged for three years in American oak.  These wines are a bit more vibrant, with notes of licorice, vanilla and ripe red fruit.
  • Viña Gravonia
    • Lastly, Gravonia produces white Crianza’s that are 100% Viura.  These wines are surprisingly complex.  For the most part they are dry to off-dry, there is evidence of tropical fruit and lengthy mineral notes across a refined and structured palate.

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