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 Vintage1981 Label 1 of 21 
TypeWhite
ProducerR. López de Heredia (web)
VarietyWhite Blend
DesignationBlanco Gran Reserva
VineyardViña Tondonia
CountrySpain
RegionLa Rioja
SubRegionLa Rioja Alta
AppellationRioja

Drinking Windows and Values
Drinking window: Drink between 2008 and 2027 (based on 14 user opinions)
Wine Market Journal quarterly auction price: See Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Blanco Gran Reserva on the Wine Market Journal.

Community Tasting History

Community Tasting Notes (average 91.8 pts. and median of 92 pts. in 94 notes) - hiding notes with no text

 Tasted by yofog on 6/27/2015: Massive, in both size and dimension. No development really since I last tried it six or seven years ago, if anything I think I may have caught it in a sleepy cycle, though it seemed to come back around toward the end of the night. One of the greats. Come back in 20 years. (106 views)
 Tasted by hackey37 on 5/30/2015 & rated 91 points: The color is clear copper golden and smells like orange peel, vanilla, honey, and nutty aromas. The tastes are vanilla, sour apple, sea salt, almonds, and sweet spices. This is a complex wine with a long, zippy finish. (346 views)
 Tasted by stevegpg on 2/14/2015 & rated 91 points: First of 6 bottles. No decant (should have tho) Honey and pear on the nose, nice fruit on the mouth. Took about 45 minutes to fully bloom. Served at about 55 degrees. Really delicious wine. (1014 views)
 Tasted by SimonG on 8/29/2014 & rated 94 points: Spanish WIMPS 'Casa de Pilatos' (La Trompette, London): Far muter and rounder on the nose initially cf the 96 reserva, then opening up to a honeyed oatmeal. Mellow and serious rather than showy. Mineral through the mid-palate and a slightly chalky grip on the finish. Understated class. (2102 views)
 Tasted by Los 12 Glotones on 6/27/2014 & rated 92 points: - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Els12golafres Wine Tasting Group: http://vinosclasicos.blogspot.com.es/2013/05/vina-tondonia-1981-blanco-gran-reserva.html
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De color amarillo dorado-viejo, con mayor sensación de vejez que el resto de vinos de la misma gama (64, 68, 70, 73). Destellos brillantes, ambarinos. Límpido, formando gruesas lágrimas.

Aromas de gran integridad, concentrado, frutoso y maduro. Abundan las notas de membrillo escarchado, corteza de limón, orejones, melón galia, miel de naranjo, con un fondo a sal marina (que no llega a ser yodado pero lo recuerda) y un deje casi vegetal perfumado a laurel y hoja de olivo, muy fino pero que va ganando en intensidad al ir respirando el vino. Van y vienen unas notas medicinales a hierbas aromáticas, té verde, tallo de manzanilla, almendras amargas y un elegantísimo acento de anises estrellados, infusión, clavo... Un blanco ordenado y elegante, dotado de una profusión de detalles de calidad poco habitual, con sensaciones de plena madurez.

En boca nos damos cuenta que estamos ante un vino necesitado de muchos años de guarda, todavía crudo y por hacerse. El blanco con el presente más complicado pero con más futuro de la casa. Hay de todo y en cantidad pero sin acabar de integrarse y con falta de orden. Potente acidez, toneladas de fruta madura, cítricos deslumbrantes, amielados, tostados, finos amargosos, una nota balsámica que lo envuelve todo y una despiedada sequedad que nos da cuenta de estar ante un tipo duro de verdad. Con 20 o 30 años más será un vino legendario. No queda otra que esperar!!!

Wine Info - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
85% viura, 15% malvasía - 12% vol.
Permanece durante 6 meses en depósitos de madera. Criado durante 6 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 en 1988. Sin filtrar. Lacrado especial para favorecer su mejor evolución en botella y preservarlo de contaminaciones. Producción limitada a 20.000 botellas. Descansa un mínimo de 44 meses en botellero antes de ser comercializado.
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 Tasted by JAKurek on 6/24/2014 flawed bottle: Corked! Very depressing (2198 views)
 Tasted by Seth Rosenberg on 6/24/2014 flawed bottle: Pretty damn corked. AARGH! (2489 views)
 Tasted by SimonG on 3/24/2014 flawed bottle: Rioja @ 28-50: Hugely advanced colour. Deep copper. Marmalade on the nose. Good attack, very drinkable but a shadow of what it should be. It's lost all it's mid-palate complexity and texture. If you didn't know the wine you'd probably be happy enough, but not what it should be. Mid (**)* at best. (2413 views)
 Tasted by Anonymous on 2/8/2014 & rated 93 points: Year 2; Tasting 2 of 5; Andrew does Rioja (1954-1994) (Red Room, Langdon Hall, Cambridge, Ontario): Popped and poured, followed approximately 2 hours. Golden colour in the glass. On the nose, crystalline honey, a touch of melon, florals, beeswax, light sherry/oxidative notes, mushroom, earth, roasted nuts, sandalwood, a touch of caramel, smoke, wet wool and dried herbs. On the palate, richly textured, dry, with tastes of honey, lemon zest, melon, light sherry, dried herbs and earth. At first this feels slightly deficient in acidity, but it really kicks in with a long, lingering lemon zest note. This was a very intellectual wine with a ton of complexity and interest. I preferred this to the younger 1991, but may be in the minority with that sentiment. (1495 views)
 Tasted by Dave Canada on 2/8/2014 & rated 92 points: Year 2 - Super Tasting 2 of 5 - Andrew does Rioja (Langdon Hall, Blair, Ontario): Very pretty nose.....really put together with wet wool, salted caramel, mushroom, flowers, burnt butter, wax, honey and melon.
The palate displayed lemon, nuts, caramel, saline, white flowers, wax, honey and earth. Really rich.
The finish is medium+ and quite complex....very nice wine. (1452 views)
 Tasted by Wine Canuck on 2/8/2014 & rated 91 points: Year 2 - Super Tasting 2 of 5 - Andrew does Rioja (Langdon Hall, Cambridge, ON): Powerful nose of beeswax, integrated dill/coconut american oak, melon, honey, wet wood and brown baking spices. Palate reveals a dusty attic note, with a fat mouthfeel. Acid is moderate to slightly low, with a finish that I found a tad short. Overall I appreciated the nose on this far more than the palate. (1799 views)
 Tasted by Flavito on 10/8/2013 & rated 95 points: Fantastic, just maturing. Will live forever, and provide long lasting, immensel pleasurable drinking. Definitely not for everyone, but a great food wine. (2218 views)
 Tasted by Periko on 6/29/2013 & rated 93 points: PnP. Bought at LdH on release. Shows a little reduction and initially it's more shy than the RSV91. With some air in glass it opens up more an more and offers a complex bouquet made of apricots and subtle honey along with that oxidative/sherry style typical of aged viura. On palate it's medium bodied (tasting this wine blind will puzzle and confuse you), quite dry, carrying a high acidity and a finish made of white fruit and citrus. It's so different and more rich and complex compared to the Reserva... it's elegant, intriguing, showing something different everytime I dared to sniff the glass or take another sip. An oxidative style that probably is not for everyone taste but that certainly won't leave anyone indifferent. A must try wine. An impressive effort with many years of life ahead. (92-94) (2309 views)
 Tasted by drwine2001 on 5/18/2013: Two San Francisco Dinners with Charles; 5/17/2013-5/18/2013: Medium yellow without any browning. Right out of the bottle, a transient whiff of sherry, but then it became fresher and fresher over 2 hours with bright citrus. Waxy, vanilla feel and remarkable acidity. Always a hint of oxidation, but this remained in the background for the whole time we drank this. Singular wine, extremely enjoyable and interesting. (2597 views)
 Tasted by Vst631 on 5/11/2013 & rated 99 points: Drank as the finale of a 4-day tondonia blanco bender in Basque Country.. First the 98 at nerue then the 91 at Mugaritz, and finally the 81 at Arzak.

This was the pinnacle of Rioja blanco for me. A 32 year old dry white in peak condition is a serious treat. It was theme and variation, playing pasodoble with the dishes of the evenin with perfect Spanish verve and pinpoint accuracy. It conjured phantoms and did magic tricks that left me smirking well after each taste.

At first open, the nose was elusive and tight. Not as forward with the tropical fruit as the 91' and tasted delicate and I worried that it was faded glory and past its prime. Had the Velvety and waxy texture so characteristic of tondonia, but the structure seemed to have disappeared. It opened up over the next hour or so, but it wasn't until the food started coming that it showed its true colors. First, with the egg and cheese variations, a raciness and edge appeared that I hadn't noticed before, carefully playing a well-demarcated, almost academic counterpoint to the idiazabal, crispy milk, and other lactic elements of the plate.

Next, a lobster dish with hemp bread and mustard vinaigrette. This is where the when blew the doors off and did some cirque du soliel crazy acrobatics. The interplay with the lobster roe was nothin short of extraordinary. Long after (10+ minutes) I had consumed the roe, post dressed salad, post bread, the tondonia continued to evoke the umami sea essence of the roe, bringing it back to my palate, not as a will-o-wisp or ghost, but as a full on hallucination. The mineral slightly saline aspects of the wine married land and sea in a way that I had never experienced. It later repeated the trick with the sole with sea vegetables and sour blossoms.

As amazing as that was, it was the pairing with the pigeon that stole the show. Here it displayed a musculature that caused me to almost get up and dance. The wine's interplay with the bitter and sour citrus components, the magnificently concentrated porcini gelee, and the rich minerality of the game, like a maestro taming a feisty orchestra.

I can only describe this wine in musical terms, it was like the albeniz's Iberia. THe evocation is melacholic, filled with past glory, and reveals none of what is to come, the brilliance and genius of Corpus Christi, lavapies and Eritania.

I have a hard time imagining a more special white. Utterly unique and singular. (2398 views)
 Tasted by SimonG on 4/29/2013 & rated 93 points: Keith P @ Trompette (La Trompette, London): Bright gold. Waxy, lanolin nose. Rich and concentrated, seems too rich for a Rioja, so maybe northern Rhone? Don't think it's Semillon etc. no, turns out to be Rioja after all, well done Tom, so Tondonia, and judging by colour and freshness, 81? Yes. Really very good, plenty of depth and interest and managing to combine interest and freshness. Lovely. **** (2185 views)
 Tasted by dream on 4/9/2013 & rated 91 points: Classic oxidized style with an intense, dry, minerally finish. It has a waxy texture with flavors of honey and spices and mature nutty notes on the finish. This actually tightened up in the glass and became less oxidized and more expressive with time open but I still liked this a little better a few years ago. (1658 views)
 Tasted by ksigerman on 3/18/2013 & rated 91 points: This continues my love affair with Lopez de Heredia. Deep golden color. Holding up incredibly well for a white wine this old. Classic briny, oxidative flavors. Nose comes off with apricot and peach. Surprising acidity on the palate. Lots of nuttiness, especially on the finish, which is a bit shorter than I would have wanted but still substantial. Needed some air, so I recommend decanting for an hour or so before serving. (1585 views)
 Tasted by Biskuit on 3/16/2013 & rated 93 points: This was rocking. Got some coffee notes on the nose at one point, very cool. (1325 views)
 Tasted by Papies on 9/7/2012 & rated 93 points: Sourced from the Bodega. Top shoulder level. Good cork.
Special wine and of the oxitative style so its a question of do you like the style.
The nose on this wine is a voyage. You can keep going back and back, the complexity , the waxy notes, honey notes. Such a beautiful nose. It lacks a bit of depth on the palate unforunately but a still, vibrant and with a decent life ahead of it. 93 easy (3104 views)
 Tasted by Rollerball on 8/1/2012 & rated 94 points: Candied citrus nose. The palate citrus and mushroom wax. And then it Demon Drops into a colder, charged, twirling comfort-bath of ocean, pits, preserved lemon oil, green banana, and peach-cream, and finally a memory of hard lemon candy.

Follow up 9/6/14. I rated this a 93 at the time but made an unprecedented move (for me) and raised it a point since I'm still fantasizing about it two years later. (2848 views)
 Tasted by caeleric/cae_cpa on 6/12/2012: drank at 11 south with drycab, hollowell and donna. pnp.

no notes taken. too many glasses guzzled, and pretty hazy this morning. remember it being waxy and rife with aromas and flavors that i cannot begin to describe. unlike anything i've ever had, and while it was good, and i marked that i liked it, i'm not in a hurry to have it again. still lively and kicking, though i don't see it getting any better. (3319 views)
 Tasted by AMRS on 6/6/2012 & rated 90 points: Not as fresh as the 1991, but still holding. The nose is a bit heavy for me, full bodied, pretty mature fruit. At this age it is still drinking very well. Impressive but lacks finesse to be more. 90. (2922 views)
 Tasted by Papies on 5/16/2012 & rated 93 points: Lopez de Heredia Vertical, with Maria Jose Lopez de Heredia (The Sampler, South Ken, London): 10yr in Barrel and 100% 1981 vintage. Golden yellow in colour. Very bright and glossy! Hints of honey, oxidation, citrus notes. Rich, dense complex and very long. Vibrant and very much alive with a long life ahead of it. This is a superb wine and one we would look to buy. Best in the white line up. 93 and drink from now but with a long life ahead. (3308 views)
 Tasted by manonthemoon on 5/7/2012 & rated 93 points: Heredia Tasting; 5/7/2012-5/8/2012 (Palena, Washington, DC): This was served as the first white of the group.
N Honeycomb, wax, seashells.
P Honeycomb, wax, rubber, seashells, and minerals.
F AA in length and still good acidity for a 31 year old bottle, actually improved with more air IMO.
92-93 (2618 views)
 Only displaying the 25 most recent notes - click to see all notes for this wine...

Professional 'Channels'
By Josh Raynolds
Vinous, September/October 2010, IWC Issue #152
(R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Blanco Gran Reserva Rioja) Subscribe to see review text.
By John Gilman
View From the Cellar, Jan/Feb 2009, Issue #19, López de Heredia: Rioja’s Great Bastion of Tradition
(Viña Tondonia Rioja Blanco Gran Reserva- López de Heredia) Login and sign up and see review text.
By Antonio Galloni
Vinous, The Wines of López de Heredia: 1954–1998 (Oct 2006)
(Lopez De Heredia Vina Tondonia Blanco Gran Reserva) Subscribe to see review text.
By Josh Raynolds
Vinous, September/October 2006, IWC Issue #128
(R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Blanco Gran Reserva) Subscribe to see review text.
By Richard Jennings
RJonWine.com (10/11/2011)
(R. López de Heredia Rioja Blanco Gran Reserva Viña Tondonia) Medium gold color with 2 millimeter clear meniscus; savory, lemon tajine, cumin nose; tasty, mature, lightly oily textured, resolved, tart lemon, baked lemon, cumin, mineral palate with medium acidity; long finish 92+ points (85% Viura, 15% Malvasia)  92 points
By Gary Vaynerchuk
Wine Library TV, Rioja Wine. Everyone is asking so here you go, Episode #239 (5/21/2007)
(LOPEZ DE HEREDIA TONDONIA BLANCO RIOJA GRAN RESERVA) #4 COLOR-medium amber, viscous; NOSE-intriguing--petrol, burnt rubber, little hints of fresh peaches, green peas, vegetable oil (99% would not like); TASTE-intriguing sour lemon, great acidity, nice structure, has a sherry-esque flavor profile, Older white wine, nice nutmeg & walnuts, very different, I like, but many would think it was spoiled, likely past it's prime, should be drank/drunk? in next 2 years; AG-93; GV-90  90 points
By Lyle Fass
Rockss and Fruit (1/20/2005)
(Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva Blanco) Yellow flowers, petrol, caramel, beeswax, mineral, and a slight sweet brown sugar component. Very interesting nose and became increasingly more complex with air even taking on a floral bouquet complexity. Subtle and elegant with an incredible freshness and length. Great complexity and fruit. Incredible acidity and laser like focus. This is a baby on the palate yet pretty well developed on the nose. Excellent wine. Unique.
By Lyle Fass
Rockss and Fruit (1/20/2005)
(Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva Blanco) The best white from Spain by far. Yellow flowers, petrol, caramel, beeswax, mineral, and a slight sweet brown sugar component. Very interesting nose and became increasingly more complex with air even taking on a floral bouquet complexity. Subtle and elegant with an incredible freshness and length. Great complexity and fruit. Incredible acidity and laser like focus. This is a baby on the palate yet pretty well developed on the nose. Excellent wine. Unique.
NOTE: Scores and reviews are the property of Vinous and View From the Cellar and RJonWine.com and Wine Library TV and Rockss and Fruit. (manage subscription channels)

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

R. López de Heredia

Producer Website

White Blend

Blend of two or more white grape varietals. One of the oldest labels in the highly competitive market for Italian grappas. Made from 85% free-run grape juice as well as distilled pips and stems, rather than the pips and stems alone

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.

Spain

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

Rioja

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

HISTORY
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.

USE OF OAK
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.

WINE CLASSIFICATION
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.

SUB REGIONS
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.

VITICULTURE & GRAPES
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.

VINTAGE CHART
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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