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 Vintage1976 Label 1 of 38 
ProducerR. López de Heredia (web)
VarietyTempranillo Blend
DesignationGran Reserva
VineyardViña Tondonia
RegionLa Rioja
SubRegionLa Rioja Alta

Drinking Windows and Values
Drinking window: Drink between 1999 and 2017 (based on 8 user opinions)
Wine Market Journal quarterly auction price: See Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva on the Wine Market Journal.

Community Tasting History

Community Tasting Notes (average 91.6 pts. and median of 92 pts. in 45 notes) - hiding notes with no text

 Tasted by rossi.wine on 4/8/2015 & rated 91 points: Evolved in colour, brownish, tawny in colour. Quite aged on the nose, dried fruit, figs, leather, earthy notes, a bit old and tired. On the palate soft, mellow, elegant and round. Nice aromatics, maybe lacking a bit of grip and definition. Balsamic notes, slightly bitter. 90-92 (625 views)
 Tasted by AtoZ on 4/2/2015: Excellent. Full and plush but not overripe. Great with lamb chops. No decant was needed. (524 views)
 Tasted by Los 12 Glotones on 1/26/2015 & rated 94 points: - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Els12golafres Wine Tasting Group: http://vinosclasicos.blogspot.com.es/2015/01/vina-tondonia-1976-gran-reserva.html
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Botella lacrada en origen y no vuelta a reencorchar posteriormente. Corcho oscuro, empapado pero en muy buen estado, elástico. Ha salido sin problemas, de una pieza. Veamos: de color rubí marronoso de capa media, ligeramente turbio con finísimas partículas en suspensión (requiere ir con mucho cuidado al servir) con bastante precipitado en la base de la botella. Reflejos cobrizos, sin mucho brillo, pardizo. Ribete amplio, atejado, sin gran diferencia respecto al menisco.

Una exhibición de perfume de Rioja clásica, de gran intensidad aunque al inicio se muestra "apestosillo" con apuntes de barro, ceniza y un fondo vegetal (¿mate cocido?) difícil de definir. Las 2 horas de espera, sin decantar, lo ponen en su sitio. De una reducción elegantísima al tiempo que potente, envolvente, con notas de cuadra y animal, faisandaje, que dan paso a un barrido otoñal de sotobosque, musgo, múrgulas y un casi apunte mineral a polvorilla y fósforo que permanece presente en todo momento pero igualmente soterrado en último término. Atractivo, complejo, sacando una mezcla de maderas viejas y frutos en licor, ciruelas pasas, higos turcos, naranja escarchada, vainilla, secundada por arreos viejos, cuero, maromas de cáñamo... Muy completo!!

En boca es ligero en la entrada pero dotado de nervio, frescor y una acidez de gran Rioja. De perfil muy clásico, aposentado, sedoso al tacto, redondo, con un ligero toque de dulcedumbre y vainilla seguido de amargosos de aúpa. Brilla a gran nivel, competo, sólido, ganando en profundidad copa a copa. La fruta roja se muestra reducidísima, fundida como pocas veces en las notas de cuero. Una de las cosechas menos conocidas de Viña Tondonia, de las menos habituales, que se nos había escapado hasta el momento. Ya no!! Ésta no tiene nada que envidiar a los gran reserva de 1970 o 1973. A diferencia de estas dos añadas se muestra más delicado, hasta el punto de llegar a confundirnos con el Bosconia de 1978.

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75% tempranillo, 15% garnacho, 5% graciano, 5% mazuelo - 12% vol.
Permanece durante 6 meses en depósitos de madera de gran capacidad en los que acaba de realizar la fermentación maloláctica. Criado durante 9 años en viejas barricas de roble americano de 225 litros elaboradas por los toneleros de la misma bodega. El vino es sometido a 2 trasiegas manuales cada año. Clarificado con claras de huevo frescas. Embotellado directamente de la barrica. Sin filtrar. En este momento a todas las botellas se les coloca una cápsula de laca en el cuello que es substituida por una nueva cápsula de plomo cuando se procede al etiquetado. Producción limitada a 25.000 botellas. Descansa un mínimo de 60 meses en botellero en los calados de la bodega antes de ser comercializado.
 Tasted by rebs1 on 11/21/2014 & rated 94 points: Had at Alta in NYC. Sorry to see the latest notes because our bottle was exceptional. More masculine than the '78 Bosconia we had with it. Plenty of red fruit, barnyard, leather, wood. If you like old rioja, Alta has an incredible list and very reasonably priced. (989 views)
 Tasted by dream on 11/3/2014 & rated 84 points: Good fading ruby color. Perfumed nose of black cherries, wet moss, horse leathers and ether. High-toned and crisp in texture with earthy flavors of taut cherries, wet hay and medicinal notes. The finish is a bit austere and lacks any complexity. I've had many off-bottles of '76 Tondonia but this bottle seems in perfect condition and the wine is less than stellar and past its best. 84- (1265 views)
 Tasted by alr6767 on 10/1/2014 & rated 89 points: No formal notes. Decanted 4 hours. This was a very good but not great GR. Although it was not offensive and offered typical rioja profile of tobacco, mint and pickled cherries, it didn't really evolve into much after significant air. In fact, it remained fairly simple and began going down hill towards the last glass or two. (911 views)
 Tasted by tcosgriff on 12/2/2013 & rated 80 points: Almost brown color with little in the way of bouquet or flavor. This wine was quite lifeless. I am struck by the difference in description provided by other drinkers. Perhaps a bottle with questionable cellaring. (1836 views)
 Tasted by dream on 4/10/2013 & rated 86 points: Seemingly a perfectly stored bottle with a high fill and a good, clean nose but this ultimately disappointed. I'm a big fan of these wines but I'm finding that they are best when released by the winery (I've had this in the cellar for about 8 years). It's always a high-acid wine but the level here was simply too high and while it did calm down some over time and with food, it still didn't show enough balancing fruit or complexity. Will try another bottle soon to be sure. (2704 views)
 Tasted by salil on 3/23/2013 & rated 95 points: Mature wines at Marco's (Milford, CT): One of the best aged Riojas I've had in some time; so elegant, refined and polished with a lovely mature sappiness and sweetness to the red fruit flavours, and layers of leather, cedar wood and higher toned herbal and floral notes accenting the core of fruit here. This seems to be at peak now and it's absolutely compelling to drink. (3072 views)
 Tasted by murph13 on 11/22/2012 & rated 95 points: From memory...Red cherry, signature Lopez barnyard, still bright acidity, light yet refined body. Not likely to improve with age, yet should still drink for the next few years. (2252 views)
 Tasted by Burgundy Al on 9/10/2012 & rated 92 points: Lieu-dit Cru "Blind White" Dinner Featured the Wine of Henri Boillot (L2O - Chicago IL): Aromas of mushroom, earth, leather, figs. Mature black fruit on paalte with very good textures, balance. Will keep for a long time going forward. Not quite as exciting as the 1976 Bosconia I've had a couple of times in the past year. (2377 views)
 Tasted by BigNightOut on 4/12/2012 & rated 91 points: Beautiful and soft. The softest Tondonia yet for me. It was so polite though, I was missing a little of the barnyard in it. Maybe that was just from my expectations. The wife adored it. (3248 views)
 Tasted by Seth Rosenberg on 12/19/2011 & rated 93 points: Acker BYO 2011 (Tribeca Grill): Brought by Matt N. Very bright on the nose - orange zest, stones and meat. Very stinky. Very mature on the palate - dusty and minerally. Secondary aromas and earth. Nice sweet strawberry finish with lots of acid. Nose - 5/6, Palate - 5/6, Finish - 5.5/6, Je Ne Sais Quoi - 1/2 = 16.5/20. (3309 views)
 Tasted by mxpbuy on 12/11/2011 & rated 90 points: Sampled 12/10/11. The wax capsule was in tact and hard but the cork was very easily depressed. Fortunately the wine was in tact and its interesting red/amber color was exactly as expected. The wine was soft and elegant but a tad simple. The wine is not a dense tempranillo / granache blend, it is almost thin but still lively fruit, leather, minerals and acidity. It gets an extra point for its ageworthiness, but it is a wine I won't seek out at auction. (2846 views)
 Tasted by mmrmag on 12/10/2011: clear brick red to pink/orange rim
a little dried out, cherry leather
short finish (2911 views)
 Tasted by wineismylife on 6/25/2011 flawed bottle: CellarTracker Wisconsin Offline I - Part Three - Grand Finale (Madison, WI): WIMLNR

Garnet color in the glass, slightly dusty looking. Unfortunately it stops right here. The bottle was corked. (3188 views)
 Tasted by floydtp on 6/25/2011 flawed bottle: CellarTracker Wisconsin June 2011; 6/24/2011-6/25/2011 (Madison, WI- various venues): Tasted non blind at a large wine dinner. Bottle was corked. It also had an interesting nose of crickets. (3804 views)
 Tasted by cpsmith33 on 6/19/2011 & rated 89 points: great opportunity to try this wine.
getting a bit older and syrupy. still has nice cherry and toffee characteristics. (2596 views)
 Tasted by Rangstrom on 5/19/2011 & rated 94 points: An excellent bottle, even if the cork turned to sawdust when I tried to remove it. Color was a light orange red and the wine itself was fairly clear with very little sediment. Nice nose of cherry, plum and tea. Still very flavorful; evocative of tart cherry. The clincher was the airy texture combined with the lively flavors. A palpable hit. (2681 views)
 Tasted by Seth Rosenberg on 3/23/2011 & rated 90 points: Cloudy appearance. Very bright nose - red fruit and strong minerals, older brown caramel. Leafy palate - herbal, Iron and blood. Lots of acid - ouch. Very Nuits/Gevery. Nose - 5/6, Palate - 5/6, Finish - 5/6, Je Ne Sais Quoi - 0/2 = 15/20. (2367 views)
 Tasted by ericbuffalo on 3/19/2011 & rated 95 points: Another great bottle of this. Red brick in the glass. Really fresh notes of cherry liquor, dried fruit and roasted chestnut (smells like a NYC street corner around the holidays). The cherry cordial flavors combine with nuts and wild herbs on the palate, with good weight, bright acidity and a long finish that brings hints of stone and carries the fruit to the end. This should drink well for another 20-30 years. (2881 views)
 Tasted by AndrewSGHall on 8/20/2010: Really good and on point. Bright acids, brick dust, leather and sour cherry. Very precise. (3333 views)
 Tasted by pbaek on 5/24/2010: Orange almost brown color upon opening. After a couple of hours in the glass, the color changed to almost deep red. Quite amazing. A very unique wine for sure. I smell dried roses on the nose. The aroma is intense and captivating. There is some sour cherry fruit as well along with cinnamon and a mark of chocolate. The wine is refined and elegant, yet penetrating on the palate. More rose petal, herbal tea and bitter, red fruit on the palate. Very complex wine. Mature, but still fresh. A serious wine, a wine one talks about and discusses. I liked it more than my parents and Susanne. (3348 views)
 Tasted by cgrimes on 1/30/2010 & rated 94 points: Ruby to brick red color. Nose of stewed cherries, leather, earth, mint. Similar on the palate with nice tart red cherry, stewed cherry, spice, mint, earth. Good acidity. Tannins completely resolved. Lovely mature wine. No bottle variation. (3524 views)
 Tasted by Anonymous on 10/16/2009 & rated 95 points: Wow, this is really good! Read Paul S's note below...he nailed the TN...why say more? :-) (3742 views)
 Only displaying the 25 most recent notes - click to see all notes for this wine...

Professional 'Channels'
By Antonio Galloni
Vinous, The Wines of López de Heredia: 1954–1998 (Oct 2006)
(Lopez De Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva) Subscribe to see review text.
By Stephen Tanzer
Vinous, November/December 1999, IWC Issue #87
(R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva) Subscribe to see review text.
NOTE: Scores and reviews are the property of Vinous. (manage subscription channels)

CellarTracker Wiki Articles (login to edit | view all articles)

R. López de Heredia

Producer Website

Tempranillo Blend

Tempranillo is the backbone of wines made in the well-known Spanish regions Rioja and Ribera del Duero, but is also grown as far afield as Mexico and Australia.

As a flavor profile, red fruits like strawberries and cherries can predominate - but with a rustic edge. Many wines made from Tempranillo will spend a few years in barrel and bottle before reaching the consumer. Many Tempranillo-based wines see a few years of oak - add that to a few years of bottle and the wine can give a subtle - and occasionaly not-so-subtle - leathery mouthfeel. The combination of the tart fruit and tannins make this wine very food friendly.

Gran Reserva

Tradition Ascendant in Rioja
August 11, 2009

One of my stops on my recent trip to Spain was Rioja, where I was able to spend quite a bit of time at the venerable winery López de Heredia, which is the focus of my column this week.

As those of you who have been reading this blog for a long time may guess, I’ve had a long love affair with the wines of López de Heredia. In fact, my second post ever was about its wonderful rosado, which, unusually for any wine, let alone a rosé, is generally released when it’s about 10 years old.

It’s almost reflexive when talking about López to describe it as classic or unyielding, because it is quite immune to the trend-following that so often guides decision-making in the world of wine. That is true. But it took me this visit to realize that in its own way, López de Heredia is now a cutting-edge winery.

It’s a case of what goes around comes around, as forward-thinking winemakers have in many ways come around to López de Heredia’s ways of doing things. This is particularly true in the vineyard, where its gentle, natural viticultural approach is now the preferred approach my many of the world’s great producers. In the winery, it’s harder to say, except that Lopez’s gentle handling, reliance on natural yeasts and overall artisanal methods are likewise an ideal today.

Of course, the fact that Lopez uses old barrels, including enormous wooden fermentation vessels that have been around almost as long as the 132-year-old winery itself, leaves a lot of room for debate. Very few producers use barrels that old, though one that comes to mind is Biondi Santi in Montalcino.

Still, styles oscillate over the years, and I believe we are now retreating from an era of overly oaky wines, back to wines where the barrel regimen is as much if not more about imparting texture as it is flavor.

In fact, oaky flavors can be important in López de Heredia wines. All you have to do is taste one of its wonderful older white wines, like the 1991 reserva, to taste the hazelnut, coconut flavors of American oak beautifully integrated with the wine. And if you ever get a chance to taste a rare 1964 white, as I did in Rioja, you will be rewarded with a rich, pure wine tasting almost entirely of minerals.

The strange thing about López de Heredia is that because its wines have never changed, people tend to think of the company as a dour, humorless, rigid sort of place, haunted by the imperative of adhering to tradition. Nothing could be further from the truth.

For instance, while the winery is largely a sturdy example of late 19th century architecture, the new boutique for visitors, designed by the Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, is fully in keeping with the non-linear architectural look of modern Rioja. It was in the boutique that I watched one afternoon as Maria José López de Heredia, along with her sister, Mercedes, and father, Pedro, about to turn 81, regaled tourists with a boisterous Spanish drinking song.

Many people might be surprised, for example, at some of the winery’s plans for tourism. Maria José, who often takes the lead role in public but runs the winery with her sister, father and brother, Julio César, would like to build a little train line to take tourists back and forth between the winery and its most famous vineyard, Viña Tondonia, just across the Ebro River.

“Why not?’’ she said. “It’s very important to teach people, and it’s easier to teach them if you give them a good time.’’

Of course, she has a serious reason as well. “It’s impossible for people to understand the soul of a wine if they don’t know how the grapes are grown,’’ she told me.

For people who do have the opportunity to visit López de Heredia, doubtless the most striking moment is seeing the thousands of bottles of gran reserva wines, aging in a cellar covered in mold and cobwebs. For people who are used to the squeaky clean hygiene of New World cellars (or for somebody like my mother, for example, who did not permit dirt in her kitchen) such a sight might prove troubling.

But the mold and cobwebs are typical of more than a few old Old World cellars, where they are considered an intrinsic part of the terroir. Maria José, for example, insists that the mold and webs are absolutely beneficial to the wines, and that cleaning them out under the mistaken notion of pursuing hygiene would have many unintended consequences.

“It’s protection, not affliction!’’ she said, and I don’t doubt her. Her wines, at least, are paragons of purity.

Viña Tondonia

Jay Miller in WA, June 2010
A visit to the venerable Bodega Lopez de Heredia, located in the Rioja Alta capital of Haro, is akin to entering a time machine taking you back 100 years. Construction of the Bodega began in 1877 and continues without any apparent changes to the present day. The winery is operated by the voluble Maria Jose Lopez de Heredia, her sister Mercedes, and their father Pedro, still active into his 80s. All of the wines are produced from estate grown bush vines. Tondonia and Bosconia are two different vineyards; Bosconia has a larger percentage of Tempranillo and a different orientation. For an excellent overview of the estate, read Eric Asimov’s blog in the New York Times dated August 11, 2009.


Vinos de España - Wines of Spain (Instituto Español de Comercio Exterior) | Wikipedia

Spain is the third largest wine producing nation in the world, occupying the majority of the Iberian Peninsula with vast diversity in climate, culture, and of course, wine. From inky, dark reds of the [Priorat] to dry, white Finos from Andalusia, Spain can easily boast of elaborating a wide variety of notable styles. Within Spain there are currently 62 demarcated wine regions, of which a handful have gained international recognition: [Rioja], Priorat and [Ribera del Duero]. Yet these regions are only a small sample of the high quality wines Spain produces. Regions such as Cava, Penedes, Somontano, Galicia, Rueda and Jerez are only a few of the numerous regions worthy of exploration throughout Spain. Spain can also lay claim to having the most land under vine in the world, growing up to, by some accounts, 600 indigenous varietals of which Tempranillo is their most well known. Other popular varietals include [Garnacha], Bobal and Monastrell for reds and for whites; the infamous Palomino Fino grape which is used in the production of sherry wine, Pedro Ximenez in Montilla Morilles, Albarino used in the creation of the bright, effervescent wines of Galicia, and Verdejo in Rueda. - Source: - Catavino.net

Spain is not in the forefront of winemaking for its dessert wines, other than for its sweet wines from Sherry country including the highly revered Olorosos and Amontillados. But apart from Sherry Spain has a range of styles of dessert wines, ranging from the those made from the Pedro Ximenez grape primarily in Jerez and Montilla-Moriles) to luscious, red dessert wines made in the Mediterranean from the Garnacha (Grenache) grape. Some good Moscatels are made in Mallorca, Alicante and Navarre. The northwest corner of Spain, Galicia, with its bitter Atlantic climate, is even making dessert wines, called “Tostadillos” in the village of Ribadivia (similar to France’s “Vin de Paille”). The Canary Islands have made interesting dessert wines for centuries (they are mentioned by Shakespeare, for example) and in recent years the quality of winemaking has been improved and the Canary Islands wines are being better marketed now. The winemaking styles for “Vinos Dulces” are also diverse, from “Late Harvest” (Vendimia Tardía) to “Fortified Wines” (Fermentación Parcial). Based on in-spain.info.

La Rioja

Consejo Regulador DOC Rioja - Control Board of the D.O.Ca. Rioja


Consejo Regulador DOC Rioja - Control Board of the D.O.Ca. Rioja

The wine region of La Rioja in Spain was first demarcated by the area's governing body, the Consejo Regulador, in 1926. The region extends for approximately 120 kilometres along both sides of the Ebro River and is, at its widest point, bounded by mountains on either side. In fact, the word 'Rioja' is a derivation of the two words 'Rio' (River) and 'Oja (the name of a tributary of the Ebro that runs right through La Rioja creating a series of microclimates and providing much needed water for the vines).

La Rioja has always been a vital part of Spain's history. Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Moors, and finally, medieval Crusaders have all played a part in the area's history. The Romans, however, made wine a part of their culture wherever they travelled, and La Rioja was no exception. Ancient sites of Roman wineries still exist in and around the area today.
After the Romans came the Moors, and winemaking all but ceased. It wasn't until after the famous 'El Cid' liberated Spain, and medieval Christianity brought trade via the Crusaders through the region, that it flourished again. The Benedictine monks of Cluny in Burgundy, known for their viticulture, helped to establish three monasteries in the area. The vines they planted were mostly white grapes. In the fourteenth century, English traders acquired a taste for a local Rioja wine, which was a blend of white and red wines called Blancos Pardillos. Over time, development of lighter reds came about satisfying eighteenth century English and French courts.

The real improvements to Rioja's viticulture began around 1780 when the need to prolong wine during transport brought about experimentation with different woods and preservatives. Studies were made of the techniques used by great chateaux in Bordeaux. With the outbreak of the Peninsular War, progress was halted until 1852, when the Bordelais came south to Rioja seeking vines because their vineyards had been blighted with oidium. French winemaking methods were eagerly taken up by great rivals the Marques de Murrieta and Marques de Riscal (who both claim to have been the first in Rioja to make wine in the Bordeaux fashion).

When phylloxera devastated Bordeaux in the 1870s and the French influence really took hold in Rioja, many of the region's finest bodegas started production on what we now consider as the great wines of Rioja. It’s important to remember that Bordeaux winemaking methods then were very different to those employed today in France, and involved long ageing in barrel, a factor that the Riojans took up enthusiastically. So enthusiastically in fact that to this day there are a number of Bodegas that still make their wine in a surprisingly similar fashion to that of the Bordelais in the later part of the 1800s and this also explains why oak ageing is such an important part of Riojan winemaking.

Pronounced vanilla flavours in the wines are a trademark of the region though some modern winemakers are experimenting with making wines less influenced by oak. Originally French oak was used but as the cost of the barrels increased many bodegas began to buy American oak planks and fashion them into barrels at Spanish cooperages in a style more closely resembling the French method. This included hand splitting the wood, rather than sawing, and allowing the planks time to dry and 'season' in the outdoors versus drying in the kiln. In recent times, more bodegas have begun using French oak and many will age wines in both American and French oak for blending purposes.

In the past, it was not uncommon for some bodegas to age their red wines for 15-20 years or even more before their release. One notable example of this is Marqués de Murrieta which released its 1942 vintage Gran Reserva in 1983 after 41 years of ageing. Today most bodegas have shifted their winemaking focus to wines that are ready to drink sooner with the top wines typically ageing for 4-8 years prior to release though some traditionalists still age longer. The typical bodega owns anywhere from 10,000 to 40,000 oak barrels.
The use of oak in white wine has declined significantly in recent times when before the norm was traditionally 2-5 years in oak. This created slightly oxidised wines with flavours of caramel, coffee, and roasted nuts that did not appeal to a large market of consumers. Today the focus of white winemakers has been to enhance the vibrancy and fruit flavours of the wine.

Most Riojan Bodegas believe that the ageing of a wine should be the responsibility of the producer rather than that of the consumer, and this is why much Rioja is more mature than wines from other countries. Rioja red wines are classified into four categories. The first, simply labelled 'Rioja', or 'Sin Crianza' (meaning 'without ageing') is the youngest, spending less than a year in oak. A "Crianza" is wine aged for at least two years, at least one of which is in oak. 'Reserva' is aged for at least three years, of which at least one year is in oak. Finally, 'Gran Reserva' wines have been aged at least two years in oak and three years in bottle. Reserva and Gran Reserva wines are not necessarily produced each year. Also produced are wines in a semi-crianza style, those that have had a couple of months of oak influence but not enough to be called a full crianza. The designation of Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva might not always appear on the front label but may appear on a neck or back label in the form of a stamp designation known as Consejo.

Rioja Alta
Located on the western edge of the region, and at higher elevations than the other areas, the Rioja Alta is known for more fruity and concentrated wines which can have very smooth texture and mouth feel.

Rioja Alavesa
Despite sharing a similar climate as the Alta region, the Rioja Alavesa produces wines with a fuller body and higher acidity. Vineyards in the area have a low vine density with large spacing between rows. This is due to the relatively poor conditions of the soil with the vines needing more distance from each other and less competition for the nutrients in the surrounding soil.

Rioja Baja
Unlike the more continental climate of the Alta and Alavesa, the Rioja Baja is strongly influenced by a Mediterranean climate which makes this area the warmest and driest of the Rioja. In the summer months, drought can be a significant viticultural hazard, though since the late 1990s irrigation has been permitted. Temperatures in the summer typically reach 95°F. Twenty percent of the vineyards actually fall within the Navarra appellation but the wine produced from the grapes is still allowed to claim the Rioja designation. The predominant grape here is the Garnacha which prefers the hot conditions, unlike the more aromatic Tempranillo. Consequently Baja wines are very deeply coloured and can be highly alcoholic with some wines at 18% alcohol by volume. The wines typically do not have much acidity or aroma and are generally used as blending components with wines from other parts of
the Rioja.

The Riojans are master blenders (as they have to be because there are relatively few single estates in the area, the norm being to blend from a wide variety of vineyards and wine areas). Consequently they are able to reduce vintage variation by careful blending and many of the best wines vary relatively little between vintages.

Rioja wines are normally a blend of various grape varieties, and can be either red (tinto), white (blanco) or rosé (rosado). Rioja has a total of 57,000 hectares cultivated, yielding 250 million litres of wine annually, of which 85% is red. The harvest time for most Rioja vineyards is September-October with the northern Rioja Alta having the latest harvest in late October. The soil here is clay-based with a high concentration of chalk and iron (which provides the redness in the soil that may be responsible for the region's name, Rioja, meaning red). There is also significant concentration of limestone, sandstone and alluvial silt.

Among the Tintos, the best-known and most widely-used variety is Tempranillo. Other grapes used include Garnacha Tinta, Graciano, and Mazuelo. A typical blend will consist of approximately 60% Tempranillo and up to 20% Garnacha, with much smaller proportions of Mazuelo and Graciano. Each grape adds a unique component to the wine with Tempranillo contributing the main flavours and ageing potential to the wine; Garnacha adding body and alcohol; Mazuelo adding seasoning flavours and Graciano adding additional aromas.
With Rioja Blanco, Viura is the prominent grape (also known as Macabeo) and is sometimes blended with some Malvesia and Garnacha Blanca. In the white wines the Viura contributes mild fruitness, acidity and some aroma to the blend with Garnacha Blanca adding body and Malvasia adding aroma. Rosados are mostly derived from Garnacha grapes. The 'international varieties' of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot have gained some attention and use through experimental plantings by some bodegas but their use has created wines distinctly different from the typical Rioja.

Some of the most sought after grapes come from the limestone/sandstone based 'old vine' vineyards in the Alavesa and Alta regions. These 40 year old plus vines are prized due to their low yields and more concentrated flavours. A unique DO regulation stipulates that the cost of the grapes used to make Rioja must exceed by at least 200% the national average of wine grapes used in all Spanish wines.

Rioja (Red) Year %

2004 Superb vintage, classic wines Drink or Hold 94
2003 Hot, dry year, long-ageing wines Drink or Hold 91
2002 Smallest vintage in 10 years. Variable quality.
Keep to top names Drink or Hold 87
2001 Excellent year for long ageing Reservas
and Gran Reservas Drink or Hold 94
2000 A generally good vintage with fine Reservas Drink or Hold 89
1999 Smaller vintage of good quality Drink or Hold 88
1998 Good vintage Drink or Hold 97
1997 Unexciting so far, but quaffable Drink or Hold 84
1996 Good year, plenty of ageing potential Drink or Hold 89
1995 Very good vintage, Reservas now showing excellent fruit Drink or Hold 92
1994 Outstanding, some great long-ageing wines Drink or Hold 94
1993 Lesser wines, apart from best-known names Drink 77
1992 Rather light vintage Drink 80
1991 Still improving, average quality Drink or Hold 85
1990 Fairly ordinary but quaffable Drink 84
1989 Good, firm structure Drink 88

Rioja Reserva & Gran Reserva – Vintages of the Eighties Year %

1989 Goodish vintage, well balanced Drink 88
1988 Fairly good vintage, well balanced wines Drink 88
1987 Very attractive vintage, now at peak Drink 90
1986 Average year, now drinking well Drink 87
1985 Average year, now drinking well Drink 87
1984 Disappointing, with problem weather Avoid 80
1983 Don't keep it any longer Drink 86
1982 Now past its best Drink 83
1981 Superb wines, finest will keep longer Drink 90
1980 Average vintage, don't keep any longer Drink 86

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