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 Vintage1991 Label 1 of 41 
ProducerR. López de Heredia (web)
VarietyTempranillo Blend
DesignationGran Reserva
VineyardViña Tondonia
RegionLa Rioja
SubRegionLa Rioja Alta
UPC Code(s)8423954260023

Drinking Windows and Values
Drinking window: Drink between 2013 and 2030 (based on 16 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 91.8 pts. and median of 92 pts. in 112 notes) - hiding notes with no text

 Tasted by empire80 on 6/12/2016 & rated 93 points: Beautiful traditional Rioja. Fading cherry fruit, hints of tea, leather, orange. Gentle acidity and a lightly spiced and long finish. (823 views)
 Tasted by CWilliam on 1/17/2016 & rated 93 points: Barolo vs. Old School Rioja vs. Burgundy (BB House): Wine # 7 (tasted blind)

Guessed this was my wine (only 2 left so pretty easy). Opened and poured into a new bottle 30 minutes before tasting. Light red color with substantial meniscus. Dirt, iodine, dried cherry, orange peel on nose (very unique). On palate, dried cherry, sweet cherry, apricots. High acids, medium body with faint tannins. Very long finish. Some in group thought this was an older Burgundy. Wonderful old school Rioja. 93+

Came in 2nd for WOTN.

[My note from 12/2010 - Classic old school Rioja. Very light red color - showing it's age. Apricots, burnt oak, licorice, spice box on nose. On palate, dried red fruits, red licorice, - very rich acidity and a very long finish - I can still recall the taste 24 hours later - this is one of the best wines that I have ever had] (2212 views)
 Tasted by mrosse on 1/2/2016 & rated 91 points: Aromatics quite lovely but was hoping for more even after an hour and a half it still hadn't fleshed out (1949 views)
 Tasted by WST on 12/25/2015 flawed bottle: Clearly a phenomenal wine, but this bottle was tainted by contact with the stinky wax capsule while pouring into a decanter. Make sure to remove that nasty stuff from the tip of the bottle before pouring. (2073 views)
 Tasted by presterjohn on 11/24/2015: rather too young and without enough breathing (45mins) - but lovely pure scented fruit and concentration behind the tannins. wait at least 5 years, maybe 20... (2290 views)
 Tasted by Anonymous on 10/14/2015 & rated 90 points: Monthly Tasting Group HWS #102; Rioja (By CvR): Very mature bouquet with nutty flavors, iodine, mushrooms and autumn forest. On the palate chocolate, tea, coffee and leather. Some caramel as well. The acidity is refined and pleasurable. Very mature, but also a very lovely and elegant wine. Special! (2449 views)
 Tasted by Old School Fan on 6/29/2015 & rated 94 points: It is always exciting to open a bottle of Tondonia Gran Reserva. This bottle did not disappoint. Very light ruby color with some brown around the edges. On the initial pour, the nose showed a lot of cedar, spice and a hint of vanilla and smoke. The palate showed much of the same but also pleasant notes of tart cherry and black tea. As the wine has evolved, notes of orange zest emerge. There's nice, refreshing acidity here as one always seems to get with LdH. This wine is so nicely balanced as to be almost weightless on the palate. This is a fun wine to drink! I think it is fantastic now but given LdH's track record, feel free to continue to hold for several more decades. (2012 views)
 Tasted by Ben H. on 5/17/2015: So much to enjoy here. Incredibly fresh tasting. I was happy that I didn't decant. At the end of the bottle there was just a very faint cloudiness to the wine, almost no sediment. The wine closed up on itself, or faded, after being open for a few hours. (2091 views)
 Tasted by salil on 11/17/2014 & rated 92 points: Leo's Blind Tasting Group - Nov '14 edition (Txikito, NY): The texture here suggests this is fully mature with the tannin mostly integrated, but the fruit here feels much deeper-complexioned and richer than in the '85, which was much more about its tertiary savoury notes. The ripe red berried and apple flavours stand out more strongly here, with a sappy intensity to the fruit, and the earthy/cedary notes are more understated in the background. A remarkable contrast with the other two older Heredias, and a fantastic trio of wines. (4239 views)
 Tasted by Normann on 10/17/2014 & rated 93 points: A fabulous wine! The nose of red berries, strawberry, licorice and tobacco, a hint of earth cellar and forest. A complex flavor with lovely balance, leather cherry and spice. Long and good taste, a lovely wine! (3056 views)
 Tasted by Sennma on 9/20/2014: Still a baby but showing really well. There's a lot of upside from where it is today. Always left thinking I don't own enough Lopez... (3322 views)
 Tasted by KeithAkers on 9/18/2014 & rated 93 points: Dinner at Browntrout (Browntrout, Chicago IL): Nose: It was incredible how youthful the nose was with dark red cherries, licorice, dark red berries, leather, herbs, black tea, spices, and a touch of VA. The depth and layering show off the age, but there is a real immediacy to the tones.

Taste: Medium bodied with medium+ acidity and silky tannins. The feel is polished and silky with dark red cherries, licorice, black tea, earth tones, leather, and dark red berries.

Overall: This was a beautiful bottle of LdH Tondonia. This still had a very primary nature to it and it feels like a marathon runner. (3156 views)
 Tasted by Seth Rosenberg on 9/18/2014 & rated 93 points: Dinner in Chicago with new friends (Browntrout (Chicago, Il)): Very young still. Nose shows good spice, some sweet oak, a beautiful strawberry fruit note, good acid, soy, meaty. Young and tart on the palate but the depth is in there - good acid, spice. Tart strawberry and stone finish. Nose - 5.5/6, Palate - 5+/6, Finish - 4.5+/6, Je ne Sais Quoi - 1.5/2 = 16.5+/20 (with 17.5/20 potential). (2086 views)
 Tasted by acyso on 9/18/2014 & rated 93 points: Dinner at Browntrout (Chicago, IL): When you open a bottle like this, you have to ask yourself, why do I not buy this by the case? The nose is leather and pencil and all sorts of secondary character. The palate's a bit austere, and though there's still some black fruit, it's the leather again that shows up in full force. Earthy and dusty. Fine-grained tannins. (1818 views)
 Tasted by tooch on 9/18/2014 & rated 93 points: Dinner at Browntrout (Browntrout - Chicago, IL): Tons of the dusty Lopez nose of leather, dried florals, some tobacco, and earth. Palate had a really sweet, dense red fruit tone to it...some mushroomy notes, and florals. Lots to love here, and plenty of life ahead of it! (3106 views)
 Tasted by Ben Christiansen on 8/30/2014: True, it did not have the drama of the '80 or '76 (which was magnificent) but it is still rather sensational wine. Although one of the sensations of the night was learning that this apparently all get re-corked at the winery, which is not to my liking. But still delicious wine. (1350 views)
 Tasted by sunnylea57 on 7/18/2014 & rated 95 points: Excellent showing. A stunning, intense nose of tobacco, leather, great big dollops of aged cedar, cherry and orange. After that remarkable nose, the palate was a little light, but after an hour it blossomed and took on much more weight. This particular bottle was in a perfect place. Addition time wouldn't have improved it at all. (1580 views)
 Tasted by Los 12 Glotones on 4/15/2014 & rated 93 points: - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Els12golafres Wine Tasting Group: http://vinosclasicos.blogspot.com.es/2013/09/vina-tondonia-1991-gran-reserva.html
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De color rubí marronoso de capa media, limpio, claro, bastante evolucionado para la "corta edad" tratándose de un Tondonia con apenas 20 años de edad. Reflejos ambarinos y rojizos, brillante, borde anaranjado.

Muy potente, especiado, con notas balsámicas casi asilvestradas (laurel, geranio, yedra, laurel). Todo él indica que está necesitado de años de guarda para acabar de domarse. Salen aromas de fruta roja madura, algo reducida y licorosa, flores marchitas, con apuntes de cueros viejos, ahumados, duelas envinadas, frutos secos y un fondo animal a faisandage. Muy buena impresión general aunque todavía por desarrollarse.

En boca es pura energía, fresco, nervioso, con bastante cantidad de fruta roja cítrica y taninos marcados, vivos pero dulces. Tiene finas notas tostadas, maderas de calidad, un rastro de cacao y un potencial de guarda enorme. Un Tondonia que hace honor a la bodega, de gran pureza y clasicismo. Una apuesta segura que ya se disfruta pero que irá a más. Las últimas cosechas embotelladas del Gran Reserva están a la altura de la historia de López de Heredia.

Wine Info - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
75% tempranillo, 15% garnacho, 5% graciano, 5% mazuelo - 12% vol.
Permanece durante 6 meses en depósitos de madera donde acabar 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. Lacrado especial para favorecer su mejor evolución en botella y preservarlo de contaminaciones. Producción limitada a 15.000 botellas. Descansa un mínimo de 44 meses en botellero antes de ser comercializado.
 Tasted by cardsandwine on 4/9/2014: Crumbly cork. Upon opening wine was a bit closed. After 30 minutes it began to blossom with ripe fruit, balance and finesse and continued to do so over the next couple of hours. Finished with earthy elegance. (2501 views)
 Tasted by Anonymous on 2/8/2014 & rated 92 points: Year 2; Tasting 2 of 5; Andrew does Rioja (1954-1994) (Red Room, Langdon Hall, Cambridge, Ontario): Garnet in the glass, leaning a touch darker in shade than the Bosconia served alongside it. On the nose, rather tight, but with some coaxing, deep red cherry, cranberry, orange zest, sandalwood, light herbal notes, a touch of unintegrated oak, baking spice, and some very light oxidative notes. On the palate, much like the Bosconia, this has very lively acidity; medium plus; as well as some moderate unintegrated tannin that really dries out the finish. There is a lot brooding in this wine with a ton of upside and class, but it definitely needs another 5-10 years to strut its stuff. Did not budge over the time followed. (2519 views)
 Tasted by Dave Canada on 2/8/2014 & rated 91 points: Year 2 - Super Tasting 2 of 5 - Andrew does Rioja (Langdon Hall, Blair, Ontario): Inviting nose of violets, spice, earth, mushroom and dark cherry and some obvious american oak
The palate shows minerals, mushroom, earth, dark cherry, spice and lively acidity.
The finish is medium+ and quite complex. Again....wait on this at least 10 years. (2788 views)
 Tasted by Wine Canuck on 2/8/2014 & rated 92 points: Year 2 - Super Tasting 2 of 5 - Andrew does Rioja (Langdon Hall, Cambridge, ON): Similarly to the '91 Bosconia served beside it this showed young, but for me showed a bit more promise. Nose of saline, sweat, sweet and sour pork, cherries, soil, vanilla, and some nutty brown spice notes. Again we have a bit of a tough palate with drying tannin and fierce acid. Young and should improve. (2919 views)
 Tasted by elledeca on 11/26/2013: excellent. roses, tobacco, redu fruit, leather...seamless and very long (3086 views)
 Tasted by Dale M on 9/24/2013: P&P and served in Riedel Burg Stems. At first almost overwhelmingly acidic, I was a little worried that this wasn’t going to yield much in the way of actual enjoyment. Fortunately, dinner came to rescue (Lamb skewers and sautéed polenta), harnessing that acidic bite, and allowing the wines true flavors to shine. I must admit, I read the notes on this particular wine very thoroughly, so I fully admit I was cued to seek out the orange peel and mushroom traits so often described, and they were pretty easy to detect. Very elegant and classy tannic structure, hard to say what additional aging would do, but this was a very educational not to mention fun wine to drink, glad for the opportunity. (3197 views)
 Tasted by mikeaukenbals on 9/3/2013 & rated 93 points: wouldn't wait much longer. bargain at $80 (3030 views)
 Only displaying the 25 most recent notes - click to see all notes for this wine...

Professional 'Channels'
By Josh Raynolds
Vinous, July/August 2009, IWC Issue #145
(R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia 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 Gran Reserva- López de Heredia) Login and sign up and see review text.
By Richard Jennings
RJonWine.com (6/28/2012)
(R. López de Heredia Rioja Gran Reserva Viña Tondonia) Bricked medium cherry red color with pale meniscus; redolent, tobacco, cigar box nose; tasty, mature, tobacco, cigar box, dried currant, dill, iodine palate; medium-plus finish 93+ points  93 points
By Chris Kissack
Winedoctor, July 2011
(López de Heredia Rioja Gran Reserva Viña Tondonia) A very long and well-stained cork removed without any notable trouble, and from beneath a wine showing fading tones, with certain maturity. From the outset this gives an evocative set of rich, gamey aromas, and although they firmed up with a little time in the decanter this was really good to go from the moment the cork was pulled. There is the sweetness of baked plum and orange peel, with high-toned edges to it, and the evolved aromas of game, leather and liquorice also quite prominent with time. Complexity is the word, I believe! A very cool, reserved, linear start to the palate, softening in texture a little through the midpalate but never completely relaxing, as there is a very firm acidity here that cuts right through everything it has on the palate. Wonderfully taut in its composition, and yet finely flattering too, with a lightly chalky background. Rich, gamey, a touch of dried fruit, but overall substantial, fresh and very impressive. Incredibly long too. Superb.  18.5 points
By Richard Jennings
RJonWine.com (5/2/2011)
(R. López de Heredia Rioja Gran Reserva Viña Tondonia) Bricked light medium red color with pale meniscus; lovely, mature, smoke, mushroom nose; tasty, mature, mushroom, smoke, tart currant, tart red fruit palate; medium-plus finish 93+ points  93 points
By Richard Jennings
RJonWine.com (10/13/2010)
(R. López de Heredia Rioja Gran Reserva Viña Tondonia) Dried berry, sandalwood nose; dried berry, sandalwood, pomegranate palate; medium-plus finish  92 points
NOTE: Scores and reviews are the property of Vinous and View From the Cellar and RJonWine.com and Winedoctor. (manage subscription channels)

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

R. López de Heredia

Producer Website

1991 R. López de Heredia Rioja Gran Reserva Viña Tondonia

From Distributor Website:

Little about López de Heredia has changed in the 125 years since its founding. The family adheres to a winemaking doctrine blueprinted in the 1880’s — to make wine only from their own vineyards, using natural yeasts, long aging in wood, and no filtration at bottling.

The winery and vineyards, some of the first in the region, are located in the Alta Rioja’s capital city, Haro. Unlike most of its competitors, now owned by outside investors, López de Heredia is owned—and every detail of its operation is handled—by the family who founded it. The bodega is now in the capable hands of the family’s youngest generation, Maria José, Mercedes, and Julio Cèsar.

López de Heredia’s greatest wines are their two red Gran Reservas—Viña Tondonia and Viña Bosconia — aged 6 to 8 years in immaculate old barrels, which mellows the fruit, allows for natural clarification, and gives the wines a wonderful complexity. But even after these Gran Reservas are bottled, they’re not ready for sale; López de Heredia often keeps them a decade more before shipping a bottle.

Tondonia, Gravonia, and Bosconia refer to single-vineyard designated sites from which the winery grows all their fruit. The blends from year-to-year do not vary much.

The Tondonia reds are a blend of 75% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha (Grenache), and 10% Manzuela and Graciano, the classic Rioja proportions. The backbone is provided by Tempranillo since it is the most balanced varietal in Rioja. Its aging-capabilities and alcohol content are derived from the Garnacha, while the acidity and color come from the Graciano and Manzuela grapes. Of the last two varieties, Graciano is a high-yielding vine in which the grapes never reach full maturity, while Manzuela has a very long ripening cycle and also rarely reaches maturity; both therefore provide the acidity for which Lopez wines are famous. Gran Reserva wines are chosen especially for particularly great vintages.

If you haven’t tasted traditional style Rioja – we mean no chemicals, no pesticides, no chaptalization, no machines, only hand-harvesting, only hand-racking with oak funnels, and 4 barrel-makers on staff, etc., etc. – Lopez should be at the top of your list.

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 [sic] 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 (when sweetened). 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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