An Iconic White Rioja – Tasting the Current Release Lopez de Heredia Vina Gravonia 2011 Rioja Blanco…

I will never forget my Vina Gravonia vertical tasting evening with Maria-Jose and Jose Luis in November 2018. Beforehand, Jose Luis had apologised that Maria-Jose would unfortunately have to go to Hong Kong and would not be attending the tasting with him. Fair enough, they are one of the most high demand power wine couples in the world. So when the evening eventually arrived, it was an extra wonderful surprise for Maria-Jose to arrive, announcing her schedule had changed. This augured well for an exciting evening.

One of the most interesting points taken from the evening was that Vina Gravonia blanco, while not one of their most expensive wines, is certainly one of their rarest, especially the old vintages, as it is the only wine in the Tondonia range that the estate does not really hold back any archive stock. So for Maria-Jose to taste older back vintage verticals is quite a true rarity.

So her advice was buy all you can and cellar them as they can age equally as well as many Reserva or Gran Reserva whites! After this evening, the Vina Gravonia earned an even more special place in my icon ranks and remains one of my favourite food whites.

Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Vina Gravonia 2011 Rioja Blanco, 12.5% Abv.

This is yet another wonderful Vina Gravonia white Rioja. It just seems this estate can do no wrong. Coming from a warmer year with lower yields, the wine still retains its hallmark freshness, saline dried orange peel zest and an incredibly complex aromatic array of crushed almonds and walnuts, waxy lemon peel, oxidative rancio notes, dusty grey slate minerality, chamomile and a faint kerosene touch. The palate is fairly taut and nutty, showing a fine textural polish, a bitter saline nutty melange, hints of brine, sherry, honey, bruised yellow orchard fruits and a piquant finish of stony bitter orange. Perhaps not quite as intense or piercing as some previous vintage expressions, this 2011 is nevertheless a slightly more serious, austere, mineral driven food focused wine that should continue to develop further mouth-watering complexity over the next 8 to 12+ years. Buy every bottle you can find!

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Revisiting the Mind Blowing Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva Rosato 2009…

I recently read an interesting tweet by my good buddy Dr Jamie Goode, one of the most well known global wine journalists writing daily on his http://www.wineanorak.com website. Never one to shy away from controversy, his tweet really did get me thinking.

Inspired by his comments, I thought I’d revisit probably one of the most authentic wines on the market that also happens to be one of the rarest new releases, the Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva Rosato. I last tasted the 2009 vintage of this wine way back in June 2019 and also bought a couple of cases for myself. So with UK lockdown recently extended by a further three weeks, I thought it was time to crack one of these unicorns!

The controversial tweet…

The Lopez de Heredia portfolio extends over 170 hectares and four separate vineyard areas of which Tondonia is both the largest (70 Ha) and the most famous. The other three sites making up the estate are Cubillo, Bosconia and Gravonia, each with distinctive terroir characteristics, vineyard aspect and differing styles of wine. The Tondonia Rosato must surely be one of the rarest wines in their portfolio as it is aged for 10 years before release and is also not made every vintage.

Tasting the new Rosato 2009 release in June 2019 with Andrea Mullineux, Maria-Jose and husband Jose-Luis.

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva Rosato 2009, Rioja, 13 Abv.

What a mind blowing Rosato wine experience. A fabulously iconic wine that offers up the expectation of greatness… and then delivers it in bucket loads! The nose is jam packed with notes of dried ginger, saline orange peel zest, star anise, red liquorice and enticing crushed pomegranate nuances. On the palate, there are seductive notes of bitter blood orange citrus, dried tangerine peel, sweet vermouth botanical spices, white peach and oodles of wet stone liquid minerality. A truly sublime palate that is supremely taut, saline, concentrated and linear while simultaneously being super elegant, slightly tertiary but beautifully pure and focused. All in all, any one lucky enough to drink this wine will experience a profound, authentic Vina Tondonia expression shaped by this iconic winery’s unique philosophy and historical cultural heritage. An incredible wine!

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Unicorn Rose… the best of the best!

Wines Built to Stand the Test of Time – Tasting the Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva Blanco 1976…

When ever I drink an old Tondonia white, I feel it’s almost a duty to document these vinous gems and capture their exquisitely complex and exotic nuances for future reference. The occasions and frequency to enjoy these old Rioja bottles becomes fewer and fewer as every year goes by yet many of them are still some years off peak maturity such is the greatness and age ability of these wines.

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja Gran Reserva Blanco 1976, 12 Abv.

A delicious, incredibly well proportioned offering revealing beautiful freshness of grated lemon peel, bergamot, peach tea, bees wax and Japanese green tea with threads of caramelised oak and vanilla pod spice. The palate has an alluring tertiary oxidative note of diesel rag, sun dried apricots, creamy honied white peaches, bruised yellow orchard fruits and tart lemon cordial with a complexing lick of salted toffee spice on the finish. A wine that really blossoms with 15-20 minutes in the glass as it slowly unfurls its multi-dimensional offering after over 40 years of ageing. Just another beautifully profound Rioja Blanco from Maria Jose Lopez de Heredia.

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Many thanks to Chef Roger Jones for sharing this delicious bottle over lunch.

A Rare and Wonderful Tasting Evening In London With the Owners of Lopez de Heredia…

The scarcity and rarity that now hampers regular drinking of the Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia whites, roses and Gran Reserva reds has been well documented. With such irregular releases due to very specific and long cellar ageing regimes, the wines of Lopez de Heredia usually sell out long before a successor vintage is ready to be released to the market with the only exception perhaps being their Reserva Tinto Rioja.

With Jose Luis scheduled to come over to London for Lopez de Heredia’s UK importer tasting, I managed to steal him away for a precious evening to present a wonderful masterclass centred around a selection of the rare Vina Gravonia white Riojas. But it was a wonderful and most welcomed surprise when at the last moment, Maria Jose Lopez de Heredia decided to join her husband on the flying trip to London.

Maria Jose and husband Jose Luis…

With a special line up of wines, Maria Jose and Jose Luis presented a fascinating and insightful masterclass to a sell out crowd of Rioja-philes. However, the evening was highlighted by Maria Jose as being even more special because of all the wines Lopez de Heredia produce, they never hold back archive stock of their Vina Gravonia, thus making vertical tastings of back vintages of this wine extremely rare and infrequent occurrences!

Vina Gravonia Vertical:

Lopez de Heredia Vina Gravonia Rioja Blanco 2008

Wet rainy year

Delicious freshness and vibrancy, liquid honey on white toast, roasted nuts, grilled herbs and bergamot nuances. Seamless, rich and texturally very harmonious and sleek, there is such fine balance and savoury lemon concentration. Youth, linear, taut.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Lopez de Heredia Vina Gravonia Rioja Blanco 2004

Cool high quality year

Delicately savoury and earthy bruised lemon and peach tea nose with old honey, nutty spice and subtle wood spice and crushed limestone minerality. Super sleek, relaxed and piquant, wonderfully harmonious texture but a resurgent, piquant, crystalline finish with power and persistence. Very youthful.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Lopez de Heredia Vina Gravonia Rioja Blanco 2003

Very hot, dry year

Richer and more opulent with peach tea, bees wax, honey, grilled nuts, bergamot and waxy green apples. Fleshy and more texturally honied and exotic with a lower acid mouthfeel but delicious richness and complexity. Delicious, ripe apple pastille finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Lopez de Heredia Vina Gravonia Rioja Blanco 2002

Difficult, wet rainy year with botrytis

Earthy, honied, savoury aromatics with a pronounced peachy, stone fruit character, almonds and crushed gravel. Palate is creamy, mellow, honied and beautifully plush and textural with a seamless satin mouthfeel, peach tea, apple purée and a tart, fresh spicy, crystalline pure finish. Very impressive.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Lopez de Heredia Vina Gravonia Rioja Blanco 2001

An exceptional year

Super complex nose of wet limestone, old honey on white toast, struck flint, peach stone and vinyl and bees wax. The palate follows with liquid minerality, great tension and power, with a wonderfully mellow, relaxed, supple texture, fantastic focus and persistence and a long, complex, profound finish. Incredible white expression.

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja Blanco Reserva 2005

Very good year

With a small percentage of Malvasia blended with the Viura, vines are grown on clay and limestone soils and show a more honied, vanilla spice bouquet with cedar spice, roasted nuts, grilled herbs, dried mint leaf and lemon cordial. Palate possesses great gravitas, density and textural depth and breadth, with a creamy glycerol weight, wonderful smokey, nutty, peachy concentration and a soft, fleshy length. Beautiful wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Red Flight:

Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Rioja Tinto Reserva 2006

Cool, dark, mellow elegant nose of polished mahogany, vanilla pod, savoury plum, black cherry and earthy black berry with a subtle layer of graphite minerality. The palate is super elegant, polished and finely linear with salty liquorice, black cherry, strawberry and a finely poised harmonious mineral finish. A beautiful, expressive, elegant rendition.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja Tinto Reserva 2006

Sweetly fruited nose with delicious nuances of salty liquorice, caramelised black cherries, black savoury plums with a complexing note of polished oak in an old library. Beautifully textural, harmonious, suave and fleshy with piquant grip, graphite tannins and a fine, harmonious, minerality focused finish. Concentrated but accessible, very generous and a very smart expression of this iconic wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja Tinto Gran Reserva 1994

Impressively complex tertiary bouquet of polished mahogany, red apple purée, smokey graphite, charcoal wood embers, savoury root veg and beetroot earthiness with a subtle, salty, maritime, blackberry finish. Super creamy and lactic, plush and fleshy with complex earthy bruised plums and stewed strawberry and winter fruits. Dense and taut, grippy, youthful mineral tannins and a long, profound classical finish. Wow!

(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja Tinto Gran Reserva 1980

Fabulous tertiary nose of malted chocolate milkshakes, coffee sweets, espresso, grilled nuts, almond spice, caramelised oak spice, creamy earthy stewed winter fruits and savoury bruised plums. Superb seamless intensity, harmony and focus in a mature, generous, intriguingly aged mellow Rioja style.

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Post dinner drinks starting with some Mullineux white, who’s winemaker, Andrea Mullineux, is a close friend and follower of the wines of Lopez de Heredia.

The Unicorn Whisperer at Work – Tasting the López de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva Blanco 2004…

It’s always an exciting moment when one gets to drink a new release of Vina Tondonia and even more so when the colour is white! While the 2004 Reserva Blanco was released back in 2017, this was my first opportunity to leisurely drink a bottle of this delicious unicorn nectar.

Tondonia is of course the hottest topic at the moment with the long awaited new release Vina Tondonia Reserva Rosado 2008 finally released into the UK in April 2018. Very little Rosado will be made available but at least there should be around 35,000 bottles of the Reserva Blanco 2004 produced. Buy it while you can!

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva Blanco 2004, 12.5 Abv.

The delicious 2004 Reserva Blanco seemed to creep onto the market in 2017 under the radar of thirsty buyers probably due to its impossible rarity. Differentiated with the Gravonia Crianza Blanco by 10% of very old Malvasía Riojana, the Reserva 2004 is a complex, intense, sophisticated expression that was fermented in 140 year old oak vats with natural yeasts, where it also underwent malolactic fermentation. The aromatics are packed with dried peaches, herbal peach tea, earl grey bergamot notes and melted honey on warm white toast. Few wines are as evocative and beguiling as white Rioja from Vina Tondonia. The palate is rich and nuanced but at no point does it show overt oak characters. Instead, it just unleashes wave upon wave of honied yellow orchard fruits, tea leaves, lemon cordial, dried guava roll, lemon grass and pungent ginger spice notes framed by vibrantly fresh acids. This is another incredibly strong performance by a Tondonia blanco reinforcing its status as one of the ultimate unicorn white wines.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

From Zero to Hero – The Traditional White Rioja Style That Has Taken the World by Storm…

It’s funny how the status of wines changes in the blink of an eye. I remember asking Maria-Jose Lopez de Heredia why the whites of Bodegas Lopez de Heredia had become impossible to buy within the period of only 1 to 2 years. She rolled her eyes, gave a small gasp and explained that global demand from top sommeliers, top restaurants and fine wine collectors had exploded literally overnight.

For years, she explained, the traditional oxidative white styles of Rioja were very difficult to sell. They were real marmite wines – some people loved them, some hated them. But one thing most people agreed on was their suitability and versatility with a wide variety of cuisines. However, a decision had already been taken at Lopez de Heredia to replant a large portion of their white grape vineyards with higher demand red varieties.

Murphy’s Law in action… and fast forward 7 to 8 years while the red vineyards matured and in that time, the market and demand had been transformed, with the oxidative whites of Lopez de Heredia and a few other producers like Marques de Murrieta becoming some of the most sought after wines for a new generation of wine drinkers. These are consumers who covet these rare, aged, unique oxidative whites as well as increasingly other previously unfashionable styles of wine like Sherry, Madeira, skin contact whites and amphora fermented whites.

So with quantities of white Lopez de Heredia Rioja basically halved, even entry level wines like their Vina Gravonia, aged for 10 years before release, are becoming increasingly rare. The cooler 2007 vintage and current release Gravonia, produced a superb 2007 Blanco from very old Viura vines planted on gravelly soils. The wine was fermented with natural yeasts in old oak vats and then matured in oak barrels for four years before being fined with egg whites and bottled in September 2012.

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Vina Gravonia Crianza Blanco 2007, Rioja, 12.5 Abv.

The 2007 Vina Gravonia Crianza white offers up such complex, individual and unique aromatics and flavours that there is almost nothing else quite like this wine being produced in Rioja, let alone at a similar quality and price point. The nose has such depth and intensity with nuances of cold chamomile tea, old honey, sweet oak spice, bees wax and lemon citrus infusions. The honied lemon tea character slowly gives way to reveal notes of vanilla pod, mushroom soup and subtle forest floor earthiness. On the palate, there is significant textural weight and flavour concentration that corresponds so beautifully to the wines intense tertiary aromatics. The acidity is very precise, fresh and finely balanced with the most subtle savoury character. Another fantastic addition to the long historic Vina Tondonia white Rioja lineage.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)