After tasting a range of new wave Rioja, and being relatively disappointed, I opened a bottle of 2008 Rioja, Viña Tondonia Reserva from López de Heredia to restore my faith.
I had been guilty of being a touch dismissive of the 2008 vintage – but it is worth recalling that, for much of Europe, a cooler summer ended with a warm end to the growing season. An Indian summer allowing vines to ripen their fruit fully and an unhurried harvest to take place under blue skies in most regions. While not the richest vintage you will encounter almost irrespective of the European region, 2008s have remarkably fine tannins, with very little austerity coupled with a bright acidity. This allows them to be broached relatively early, but also suggests that there will be some surprises with bottle age. Rioja actually fared much better; June had some heavy rain, but it caused no trouble, summer was as usual, hot and dry. Ripening wasn’t uniform, but, given the conditions, harvest arrangements for the Tondonia Reserva could accommodate the varied ripeness and less evolved parcels of vines were given longer. In fact, harvest for the Tondonia was relatively leisurely and stretched from the 7th October to the 24th.
López de Heredia is one of the most traditional of all Rioja producers – little has changed here since the estate was founded in 1913. It possesses a reputation for producing complex wines that invariably have the capacity age over the long-term. The estate is extensive with 170 hectares of vineyard and 124 currently in production. Then again, the range of wines is also extensive – they produce 9 different wines in most years across all levels, including some great white and rosé Gran Reserva. The Tondonia vineyard must be the most famous that they own, comprising 100 hectares in Haro, next to the River Ebro, where the area of Rioja Alta borders Rioja Alavesa. The vineyard lies in a shell-like depression on a soil of alluvial clay with a high proportion of limestone.
A Reserva Rioja is aged for a minimum of three years with at least one year in oak barrels and six months in bottle before release. Many traditional, quality conscious estates go far beyond – Viña Tondonia Reserva is aged for six years in barrel! Rioja is changing and not all estates and winemakers adhere the traditional ageing model. There is no denying that this has breathed new life into the region, but it is hard not to hanker for those complex aged Rioja such as Viña Tondonia. I loved the fact that this 2008 is mellow and drinking beautifully now. It is so elegant and complex with notes of dried fruit, mainly red fruits, forest floor, exotic spice, woodsmoke, then there is something floral, a certain zesty blood orange note and hints of creamy vanilla. Effortless and refined, this is silky smooth, leading to a long, lingering finish. It isn’t brash, the intensity is present but without heat and weight – a beautiful example and frankly a snip for this price.
The estate suggests that the 2008 is a ‘perfect partner to a leg of new season Welsh Lamb stuffed with wild garlic, rosemary and anchovies’. Well, if I wasn’t already looking forward to calmer times and early March, I sure am now…I’ll put that suggestion to the test!
2008 Rioja, Viña Tondonia Reserva, López de Heredia
95 points, Luis Gutiérrez, robertparker.com
£135 per 6 bottle case in bond
A blend of 75% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha and 10% split between Graciano and Mazuelo.
The nose of the 2008 Viña Tondonia Reserva is very elegant, fresh and with an herbal twist, starting to show the complexity of the aged wines that are sometimes still too young when they are released 10+ years from the vintage! The palate is medium-bodied, with lightness and depth, very classical with extra freshness and all that is needed for a long development in bottle. This is the more Tondonia of the two vintages I tasted side by side. There are notes of maple syrup, smoke, licorice and crisp fruit. The palate is more austere, crunchy and reveals the chalkiness of the soils. There's more definition and precision here. Drink 2020-2030.
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All the best for 2021.