Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bodegas R. Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia: A Rioja tradition

I will be hosting a vintage Rioja tasting at the Bull and Bear in Orlando's Waldorf Astoria in early March and will post a blog about the event shortly thereafter.  In the period leading up to the tasting, I will be publishing posts on the region and the estates (Marques de Riscal, R. Lopez de Heredia, La Rioja Alta, Faustino I, Vina Valoria, Bodegas Muga, Castillo Ygay, Marques de Caceres, Bodegas Montecilo, CVNE) whose wines will be included in the event.  Previous posts have covered the region and its grape varieties.  This post explores the Lopez de Heredia estate.

R. Lopez de Heredia was founded over 135 years ago by Don Rafael Lopéz de Heredia y Landeta who was known as "a knowledgeable and enthusiastic student in the art of winemaking."  The estate falls squarely into the "traditionalist" camp and has forged and maintained a reputation for high-quality wines through its focus on vineyard care, rigorous grape selection, and oak-barrel ageing.  It is the only estate to have been awarded a Diploma of Guarantee by the Rioja DOC regulatory authority as recognition for never having used non-estate grapes in its wines.

Grapes for the estate's wines are grown in four separate vineyards, each of which is dedicated to a specific label.  The particulars of the vineyards are presented in the table below.

Lopez de Heredia Vineyards

Grapes are hand-harvested by families of harvesters from Portugal and Spain and are taken to the winery in tractor-drawn trailers.  At the winery they are placed in de-stemming machines before moving to fermentation containers.  The red wines ferment on the skins while the white have no skin contact.  Rosés macerate but are removed from skin contact prior to fermentation.  The must is fermented in large oak vats: 60 hectoliters for whites and 240 hectoliters for the reds. 

Red wine fermentation at Lopez de Heredia is a two-step process.  The first phase lasts for seven days and includes pumping-over.  At the end of this phase the must is drained off the remaining solids.  The second fermentation (5-6 months) takes place in Bordeaux-type oak barrels and has as its goal the removal of residual sugar.

After fermentation the wines are aged in 225-liter oak barrels.  The wine is exposed to a slow oxygenation process, facilitated by the pores in the wood, and are racked once or twice a year during the ageing process.

The population of the Bodegas' wines are presented in the table below.   Data from the most recent vintage of each label is used to present a representative picture.  The table indicates that Lopez de Heredia is a producer os some significance and that the production of Viña Tondonia dwarfs that of all the other labels combined.

As Thomas Matthews stated in the Wine Spectator, "The wines of R. Lopez de Heredia define traditional Rioja and they set the standards by which the region's modern reds must be judged.  The white Gran Reservas have few parallels in the world of wine ... they are unique, complex and alluring."

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