Spotlight on Spain: Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rosado 1993

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Today’s entry, the last of the Rioja wines in my Spain profile, is somewhat of a genre-buster. As I’ve mentioned before, Rioja (and Spain generally) has a disparate and noncontiguous history, with Romans, multiple Christian kingdoms, Muslim invasion and the Reconquista, not to mention the civil war, the dictatorship and the process towards modern Spain. Each of these ‘eras’ has had a distinct impact on the Spanish wine industry. Whereas the Romans brought modern Roman wine-making technology and techniques to Spain in the 3rd century, the multiple Christian kingdoms brought their wealth and appetite for fine wine 1000 years later.

I don’t want to rehash Spain’s complex history here, suffice it to say that in Spain almost nothing fits a particular ‘genre’ or a particularly clear pattern or mold. This has provided the industry both a wealth of diversity, but also somewhat of a lack of clearly discernable personality. In many ways, this means that in Spain it makes more sense to approach a wine in a bit of a microcosm, looking at the history and tradition of that particular producer and that particular plot of land. Thus does the easy to say tradition vs. modernity debate in Spain actually become a series of threads that each sew together completely different histories and traditions into particular conceptions of the ‘modern’.

So, when it comes to legendary producer Lopez de Heredia, a winery sewn far more tightly into Rioja 100 years ago than into the present, and Rose, a style of wine commonly associated with light, fruity, easy drinking, you know that this particular meeting of tradition and modernity will be anything but easily pigeonholed.

Lopez de Heredia's Tondonia Vineyards in Winter

First off, Heredia, founded in 1877, harvests and selects all grapes by hand, uses wild yeasts and ferments in huge oak vats with a capacity of 240 hectolitres for the reds and 60 Hl’s for the whites. One might also take notice at the vast use of American oak barrels – 14,000 at last count – occupying 6000 square metres of cellar space. Heredia combines extended oak aging with considerable bottle aging before release to produce wines of singularity. I, for one, have never tasted any other wines quite like those from Lopez de Heredia.

So how do these threads of tradition and history combine to create what some consider to be Rioja’s most important pink wine? Well first off, the Rose is made from tempranillo, garnacha and viura (a white grape), in an intriguing blend that is very very dry, but also maintains some of the classic bright red fruit character one usually associates with the pink stuff. But that’s pretty much where the similarity ends. Remember, this wine is almost 17 years old! The rich and ripe cherry fruit on the nose becomes a terse and somewhat aggressive oxidative palate that yet retains persistence and elegance beyond any Rose you are likely to have tried. The combination of fruit and sherry-like oxidation makes this wine eminently food-worthy – pizza, jamon, almost anything at all, really.

That Spain can produce wines of such uniqueness next to modern fruit driven reds, bright and clean seafood friendly whites and smooth and silky earth driven classic wines is the embodiment of Spain’s tumultuous and non-linear history. The past several posts on Rioja are just such an indication of this complexity, as even this one famous region is nearly impossible to pin-down. In the next several posts I will be highlighting some of the lesser known regions and grapes of Spain, each with their own stories and traditions, and each with a particular take on why Spanish wine is a force any serious wine lover cannot ignore.

Very Good+ to Excellent
$45 at Kitsilano Wine Cellar


  1. Joon S.
    March 28, 2010

    Ah! Again we see R. Lopez de Heredia. I’ve had the pleasure of trying the Vina Gravonia rose, but not the Vina Tondonia.

    With rose season coming up soon, people will no doubt be looking for those from Provence; however, they would be well-advised to shake things up a bit and pick up a few bottles of Spanish roses if they can find some!

  2. Shea
    March 28, 2010

    I agree – but I would add that this is not what most people associate with Rose – not that that’s a bad thing!

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