I always aim to taste the wines we offer so that we can give you our own opinions alongside those of respected critics, but that said, I am more than happy to offer this new release 2011 Rioja, Viña Tondonia Reserva, from López de Heredia; to my mind this estate produces wines of tremendous consistency, vintage in, vintage out, and while one vintage may be lighter than the next and not possess the same staying power, all are incredibly rewarding and relatively affordable given the quality on show.
You will no doubt have seen offers already citing how 2011 has been classified as ‘excellent’ by the official Rioja Control Board (Consejo Regulador). Look behind these comments and you will see that between 2004 and 2012 no vintage was classified anything less than very good, but four were classified ‘excellent’, namely 2010, 2004, 2005 and 2011, but it should be stressed that these are generalised comments and not specific to one estate. One point that is indicative of the quality of the 2011 vintage at López de Heredia is that they have opted to make a Gran Reserva, which suggests that the fruit was sufficiently impressive and concentrated to warrant extended ageing.
You will also no doubt have seen offers citing whichever critic gave the highest point score to the 2011 Viña Tondonia. I don’t cite certain critics whose notes I regard as oversimplified and whose scores are often incredibly lofty. Instead I prefer to cite someone whose words more often than not coincide with my own, and therefore, for Spanish wines, we consistently refer to Luis Gutiérrez on robertparker.com . Echoing my own view on the consistently outstanding quality of Viña Tondonia Reserva, Luis has scored every vintage from 2004 to 2011 within a tight band (93-96 points), and frankly only two vintages at the lower end of that band. Those two vintages, 2005 and 2009, lean towards the earlier drinking end of the spectrum and I can confirm that both are drinking really well and do not disappoint. It should be noted that these scores are awarded to young wines and offer an indicative snapshot – they aren’t cast in stone.
The 2011 vintage delivered wines with good concentration in Rioja, so unlike, say, 2005 and 2009 that showed a certain lightness, there should be more staying power. In any 2011s that I have tasted to date, there is more substance and evident structure – I look forward to seeing how the Tondonia measures up in due course. The style of this producer is such that, even in the more powerful Rioja vintages, they capture a sense of traditional refinement and a certain accessibility suggesting they can often be enjoyed on release. I am not expecting any difference in style with the 2011.
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 – for example, 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.