Once again it is the contrast of two excellent but completely different Riojan bodegas that make an impression on Pierre and Matthew
Two of the most memorable tastings came at opposing ends of the Rioja spectrum – the first at the headquarters of Vintae, and the second at López de Heredia. Vintae are a company that originated in Rioja but now own vineyards in 15 DOs (denominción de origen – equivalent of France's appellation controlee) across Spain, seeking to reinvigorate the Spanish wine market as well as champion the joy of garnacha. They describe themselves as a 'peculiar group of unique people, united by the same dream' and their passion is contagious. I've long been a fan of their 'Salvaje', a single-vineyard 100% garnacha from the north face of the Moncayo, so to taste their entire range from across Rioja and Navarra was a real treat.
A few particular favourites from the Vintae tasting include:
Salvaje del Moncayo Garnacha 2015 – One of my favourite wines but there is something extra special about the 2015 vintage. There is added perfume of damsons and plum alongside the delicious cherry and cranberry flavours.
El Pacto Crianza Rioja 2015 – 100% tempranillo from 70-year-old vines in Rioja Alavesa that blends the traditional and modern winemaking approaches in Rioja with aplomb. Aged for 14 months in new French oak this poised Rioja is creamy, full-bodied and spicy – fabulous.
We also got to meet a young winemaker from Txakoli who is making his wine in the Vintae winery, as you can probably tell from his labels, the wines were brilliant but bonkers – a bit like him!
The exquisite López de Heredia, a living museum of a winery
It's always a pleasure visiting López de Heredia, I was lucky enough to visit back in 2015 and had a chance to go into the cellars – something I encourage everyone to do if they're ever in Haro! This time was a whistle-stop tour to taste their recent releases. Well, when we say recent releases this is López de Heredia we're talking about…….
The line-up included their Viña Tondonia 2005 Blanco, showing pineapple, mango and hazelnut with a salty, almost peaty hint; Tondonia 2005 red Reserva with its astonishing red-fruit tang and vitality; to their legendary Tondonia Rosé 2008 Reserva (yes, a 10-year-old rosado that's spent four and a half years in barrel) showing an onion-skin colour, bruised cherry, watermelon and an intriguing oxidative touch.
The wines of López de Heredia are some of the world's most distinctive (for us really only Lebanon's Chateau Musar comes close) thanks to the incredibly long ageing before release of the wines (the 2005 Tondonias spend six years in barrel). But it's their ability to balance this with incredible acidity and freshness that makes them one of the world's greatest wines, and it's encouraging to know that with all that's going on in Rioja at the moment with changing laws and new styles coming through there are still the ultra-traditionalists for those that like these styles, and they don't come more traditional (though maybe a little on the quirky side too, for some) than López de Heredia! Long may it continue.
The ancient cellars at López de Heredia – well worth a visit if you are in the area