Tradition rules at Lopez de Heredia; it should and it must to make wine this classic, pure and elegant. Don Rafael was one of the founders of modern Rioja, by which I mean 1877-modern when the first phyllloxera-weary French were just crossing the border. No reason to change now in tech or taste. No malo, no AC, no fruit bombs, no choking oak. What you get here is not bowls of cherries and plums, but leaner berry fruit, hints of rose, leather and cinnamon, graceful and long lived. Not for every taste, but my kind of winemaking, pure, from soil to yeast to salt air. The Tondonia reds are true rarities that their fans seek out and treasure for years. Not that you need to wait. The Lopez de Heredia is aged past the minimum, beautiful to drink now and for another 15 years. I also have 1994 Gran Reserva if you want to taste real patience. This 2001 is perfect to kick off another century of delicious tradition. The winery’s current generation is quite ready for the future. Next time you gotta see this place, a gingrebready old 19th century winery… and a sweeping new Zaha Hadid structure as cool as Gehry’s “Bilbao.” Inside those contemporary swirls is an intricate replica of the gorgeous Art Nouveau boutique that Don Rafael commissioned to show off his Riojas at the Brussels expo in 1910. Tondonia is always in style. The 2001 Reserva will make you a believer for a long time.
2001 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva …nose of decayed red fruit, fireside hearth, a touch of mulberry… The palate is medium-bodied with fine tannins, crisp red fruits (wild strawberry and cranberry) with a sharp, vibrant, tense, tannic finish… 95 points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate
I thought that Alejandro Fernandez’s 2009 Crianza (94RAS) was the best I’ve tasted from his landmark tempranillo in the Ribera del Duero. It was the best vintage since 2001, but when I opened the Reserva, wow! The two years in oak took it up a gorgeous notch for me. The Wine Advocate just came out very enthusiastically too, Lush fruit and caressing texture “can only bring smiles,” Neal Martin said and pegged it at 93 points, conservative by my lights and darn high scoring for a $50 wine. Of course I’ve got a much better price and a full range of sizes, too, magnums and double mags. This is a beauty; any follower of Alejandro, any Ribera fan, will want plenty on hand. GPS: 95
2009 Pesquera Tinto Reserva …when I opened the Reserva, wow! The two years in oak took it up a gorgeous notch for me. …This is a beauty; any follower of Alejandro, any Ribera fan, will want plenty on hand. 95 points, Bob Sprentall, B-21 Prop.
I admire how the Spanish truly respect age, in people and in wine. It’s one reason the Muga family cellars their wines so long and puts so much effort into making their own barrels. That’s why I’m so close to them. The Mugas have been in Haro for at least three centuries and they care lovingly for their oldest Gran Reserva Rioja. They release a Prado Enea only when it’s ripe, rich and ready to drink although you can cellar another 15 years or more. Perfect for me, and Parker, too. This 2005 is a charmer; all those years in oak, new and old, harmonize the forest of berries, dark chocolate and wild herbs into a lusciously sleek wine. The Mugas are old friends of B-21, so you may have met Juan and Isaac on their visits here. I’m lucky enough to see them in Haro. Everyone sees their amazing cooperage and endless cellars, but my favorite spot was much older. Juan Muga took us to a convent from the 1300s that is now the Los Augustinos Hotel with a very contemporary restaurant from the 2000s. Imagine sitting in the huge stone arches of a medieval cloister sampling Iberico ham and tempura asparagus with the best Mugas and the other favorite drink of modern Spain: table-side gin and tonics. What a family! We’ll bring them back soon. So get to know the newest member of the family, the 2005 Prado Enea Gran Reserva and you’ll be a Muga friend for life, like myself.
2005 Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva
…opulent bouquet of primal, ripe, boysenberry, mulberry, dark chocolate and crushed violets that blossom with aeration. The palate is full-bodied with crisp acidity… pure blackberry and cassis fruit…. 95 points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate GPS: 96
I love how the Spanish savor time. Great wineries like Lopez de Heredia have already cellared it for you. This Tondonia Gran Reserva was just released and it’s already 18 years old. A fabulous wine that’s ready to drink or to cellar. The color’s now a touch amber, the wine is smooth, plush and still fresh with cherry and berry, smelling of smoke and leather. Everything about Lopez de Heredia has a rich patina, one reason W&S ranked it a Top 100 winery. Patriarch Rafael founded it in 1877 and bought the Tondonia vineyard in Rioja Alta 100 years ago. Gotta see the place when you’re in Haro: century old buildings plus a swooping modern Zaha Hadid pavillion as cool and modern as the Guggenheim in Bilbao (photo below). Perfect setting to treasure historic wines like this. When a vintage like ’94 is deemed great enough for a gran reserva, the best of it spends eight years in barrel, and if approved even more time. It’s an old style blend, three quarters tempranillo plus graciano and mazuela. Seems like you oughta pay more for so much history in a bottle, but it’s well under $100. Rioja lovers have to have this wine. There will be others… but you’ll have to wait.
1994 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva The 1994 Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva has an elegant bouquet with light red cherries, orange blossom, mahogany bureau and burnt buttered toast. The palate has a meaty, savory entry with crisp tannins and racy acidity. It displays superb structure towards the finish where one finds notes of bitter lemon, orange peel and sage. Delicious! Drink now-2030+.
Alejandro Fernandez has become a leading producer in the Ribera del Duero. You loved his 2004 Dehesa La Granja, which was more forward and rich than this model. The strength of the 2005 is structure. More intensity and power here, this is big, full-throttled tempranillo. If Alejandro’s Pesquera is Burgundian in style, Dehesa is more Bordeaux. We bumped into the director of Dehesa in Rioja during the wild Festival of San Mateo, and she gave the nod to the 2005, as well. Here’s all my iPhone photos from that trip.
2005 Dehesa la Granja
…displays an inviting perfume of cedar, Asian spices, a hint of balsamic, licorice, and assorted black fruits. This is followed by a sweetly-fruited, well-proportioned wine with a friendly personality…. 91 points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate
You love the 2001 La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza, and absolutely nothing over delivers like it does. And you know it. 2001 was exceptional for LRA. It was exceptional for all of Rioja, but the folks at La Rioja Alta really nailed it. And this 2001 Grand Reserva 904 is another testament to the strength of the vintage for them. This may be one of the top values of the world at this price. Remarkable!
2001 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 …displays a lovely nose of Asian spices, incense, tobacco, balsamic, and blackberry. On the palate it has exceptional depth, layers of spicy black fruit, excellent ripeness, and an elegant personality…
Not bad, the town baker rolls out three hot scores to press. Like anything else, it starts with great ingredients. When vineyard owners sell off their production to the local cooperative, it awards little satisfaction to the artisan. Jose Alberto Alvo Casajús had been selling off his production to the cooperative but stopped twenty years ago (meaning he has older vineyards). Remember that many of the vines in the Ribero del Duero were planted in the last twenty years. Not here though. I love Jose’s balance and use of oak and the velvety textures I find in his wine. Ribera del Duero wines can deliver a Grand Cru pinot noir experience. The Soms at Berns have proven this to me more than once with supple Tempranillo. You’re gonna want that.
…introverted on the nose… with broody dark berries and dried violets. The palate has a sorbet-like freshness on the entry, which belies the firm backbone to this wine. …structured, reserved almost aloof finish…
Stopped by this Bodega in September and what a fortunate stop it was. Met winemaker Rafael Vivanco of the visionary family who’ve been making top notch, traditional Rioja since 1915. Raphael also showed me the family’s act of love for wine, The Museum of Wine and Culture, which is filled with the kind of stuff wine folks like to look at. Nice, but what’s nicer to folks who love to drink wickedly good wine is how straight up delicious this 2005 Reserva is. No gimmicks with this beauty. Just a bold and inspired wine reflecting not only its terroir but the perfectionist leanings of its maker whose goal is simple: make superb wines. A traditional Rioja blend, 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano, aromatics of Asian spices, lavender, tastes of blackberry with shades of pencil shavings and tobacco. From a true Rioja dynasty in the making!
You love the 2001 La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza, and absolutely nothing over delivers like it does. And you know it. 2001 was exceptional for LRA. It was exceptional for all of Rioja, but the folks at La Rioja Alta really nailed it. And this 2001 Grand Reserva 904 is another testament to the strength of the vintage for them. This may be one of the top values of the world at this price? Remarkable! The winemaker at LRA is Julio Saenz and I can’t say enough about him, you may have noticed. We are planning a vertical tasting of 21 vintages of 904 with him. Care to join?
…displays a lovely nose of Asian spices, incense, tobacco, balsamic, and blackberry. On the palate it has exceptional depth, layers of spicy black fruit, excellent ripeness, and an elegant personality….
One whiff of the 2009 Pesquera and I thought of grand cru Burgundy. Transported me to Clos Vougeot! It’s pure tempranillo, or “tinto fino” as they say in Ribera del Duero. This is as pure a Pesquera as I have ever tasted and I’ve been drinking the wines of Alejandro Fernandez for decades (He’s in his 70s now!). It hasn’t been this powerfully good since the great 2004s, and this could be even better. Pure intense fruit of Ribera comes through beautifully. When I tasted my way through Alejandro’s range, lower and grander, it was the Pesquera that grabbed me. Parker’s pegged the vintage at 94. Maybe the ’08s are good enough for others, but I’ve got the ’09 and I’ve got my first big shipment. No wonder that the Spanish Guia del Todovino 2012 called it the best buy of the year. It over-delivers at normal retail price and at my deal for you, it’s an absolute steal. To do better, you might have to cross the Atlantic!
If 30 years is a generation then Matsu has three. Great news for me hearing middle age is 100! Knew I liked this project of old vines; 70, 100 and 130 years. Hard to believe anyone really knows how old some vines are, but somebody’s grandfather had to have planted them, and that’s just how they relate to the vines. No surprise how the wines are named. El Picaro – the rascal – 70 year vines, El Recio – middle aged man – 100 year vines, and El Viejo – Old man -130 year old vines. Would be a gimmick if it wasn’t the real deal staring at you. Heard of or tasted Numanthia or Termes from Toro? Toro is the wild west of Spain; arid, windy, remote. Matsu project has three perspectives to relate to the Toro region and the grape Tinto del Toro, aka Tempranillo. 2011 Picaro is a excellent example of pure and authentic Toro. There is a rustic element to Toro that makes it unique. A touch of savage found in the Rhone, say Vacqueyras, and yet the wine is vivid and bright, coming in part from the diurnal temperature changes. High altitude and cooler temps gives the wines energy, vibrance. That’s Toro. El Picaro brings such signature of Toro that it’s a must buy (92RAS, 95GPS, it really says where it comes from). 2009 El Recio is a bigger wine, more oak influenced and add 30 years of vine age and you get more concentration, deeper colors and a bigger wine (92RAS). 2009 El Viejo adds another 30 years vine age and a longer time in oak and an even more massive wine emerges (93RAS). There is something at Matsu for all ages.
Stunning nose, glorious and complex. Four years in oak did it no harm. Wine is maturing. Delicate. Old Rioja sometimes fools me, they move towards a pinot noir style. It is so refreshing to drink wines that have bottle age. The winemaker says this is the best wine at the winery now. Agreed. Not huge, all whispers and caresses. If you’re looking for nuance, this is it. You’re gonna want that. Tasted at La Rioja Alta in August 2012. 95RAS
Just recently we visited our friends at La Rioja Alta, one of a handful of centenary wineries in Rioja, established in the 19th century. These wineries have extensive stocks, releasing wines that are ready for drinking. LRA cellars 9 million bottles representing a decade of sales. Where else can you buy wines with similar bottle age at these prices? Tasting though their current releases with winemaker Julio Saenz, it is even more clear what value these wines represent. The 2004 Arana (93RAS), an insiders wine, has not received the attention the Ardanza or Alberdi have and is a sleeper. Two remarkable wines need mentioning in the spirit of San Mateo and most worthy of celebration, the 904 and 890. These are testament to the philosophy and flavors of Rioja. These aromatics are rare these days, and they are what make the Rioja model of cellar and hold so rewarding for you, me and a proud Julio.
…well-defined vibrant chocolate-tinged bouquet with touches of saddle-leather, cinnamon and ox-blood that unfurl beautifully in the glass. The palate is very well-balanced with a caressing, sensual texture and subtle leather and peppermint notes on the finish. This is a wonderful Rioja…
…medium-bodied with wonderful delineation and supple, lithe tannins. The acidity is very well judged and it leads to a pert, tense finish of bitter cherry, loganberry and licorice. This is an outstanding wine…
…The palate has a touch of gingerbread on the entry. It possesses a fine lattice of tannins with an attractive core of peppery red fruit that leads to a leather-tinged finish with hints of orange rind and soy….
Alejandro Fernandez has become a leading producer in the Ribera del Duero. You loved his 2004 Dehesa La Granja, which was more forward and rich than this model. The strength of the 2005 is structure. More intensity and power here, this is big, full-throttled tempranillo. If Alejandro’s Pesquera is Burgundian in style, Dehesa is more Bordeaux. We bumped into the director of Dehesa in Rioja during the wild Festival of San Mateo, and she gave the nod to the 2005, as well.