“When the great Rioja’s wines age, they become very close to exceptional burgundies”
It was Maria Jose Lopez de Heredia, owner and great granddaughter of the awarded Viña Tondonia winery, who said this while we were enjoying her fabulous Gran Reserva 1981 last October 30, 2015… comparing two styles which I love deeply while drinking what for me is probably one of the best wines I ever tried. Since then, it has always been in my mind and of course, having the privilege of being her retailer distributor in the country, I have tried and enjoyed that vintage a few more times with different friends and with Maria Jose once again last November 2016. She said this time while drinking it, that this was the wine she chose for her wedding with Jose Luis Ripa a few years ago. Right after her comment, in the middle of silence among 24 Tondonia lovers, one of them said to Jose Luis “now I know why you are looking at me like that”. We all laughed loudly after this as it seemed to be a comment out of place but at the same time it also made sense. I knew exactly what that customer meant. He noticed something… he saw on Jose Luis a special kind of reaction while tasting it probably going thru his memories and remembering a special moment in his life.
I admit I like to put “moment tags” on the wines. How unique a wine can be when it becomes part of our lives. There is a before and after. For those who love wines, they remember many good moments through the labels they have drank and course, through their vintages. If they have the chance to drink them again, they will remember the first time for sure! The first time I tasted the 1981, I remember perfectly how two of my friends came to me, gave me a hug and said “thanks, really thanks for this.” I found it heartwarming and for some reason it is still in my mind with the same freshness as if it only happened yesterday.
The truth is many wine connoisseurs say Tondonia GR 81 has finally overtaken the outstanding 82 in Rioja which was considered one of the best years in the region. Everyone talks about its tart cherry entry, orange peel and subtle earthiness in the mouth but I would like to mention the longevity of this wine in the glass… not breaking as many others do after a few hours it is open. This one keeps its vitality and complexity fully constant but the good thing here is we don’t need to drink a GR 81 to find this. This is something very common in all the wines of Tondonia. I drink their Reserva every week and nothing has changed.
Vina Tondonia has been part of many epic moments since I started drinking them. We are talking about a 140 year old winery founded in 1877 by Rafael Lopez de Heredia. It is one of the older ones in Rioja along with Marques de Murrieta (1852), Marques de Riscal (1858) and Cvne (1879).
Maria Jose along with three other siblings represent the fourth generation of the family but only 3 of them work in the winery. They still keep alive and intact the way of understanding and making wine that their great grandfather started. The family is also a big follower of ZERI (Zero Emissions Research & Initiatives), whose goal is to apply the model of the nature cycles to all kinds of human activities. A very good example of this is the habitat of the microorganisms that live in the cellar. She says “the spiders must be in the cellar, they are very important. They eat the cloths moth from the corks and the mould covering the bottles act like thermostats, as the wines would evolve in a different way without it”.
I’m pretty sure we all have heard about the common classification in Rioja depending on the maturation time in barrels: roble or semi crianza (4 months), crianza (12 months), reserva (18 months), gran reserva (24 months). But if we think of Tondonia, fortunately for us, we have to forget the books. Their reserva is 6 years of maturation and the Gran Reserva is chosen between the reservas that are most promising. Personally, I truly admire their way of understanding wine. While most of the cellars in Rioja changed their styles trying to follow the trends, Tondonia has kept his style loyal to what Rafael did and probably this is what makes them unique. It’s also maybe the reason why today they are a real legend in the world of wine.
If you want to check out other wines that are cost-efficient, from the Rioja area and are easier to find, aside from the mentioned Tondonia Reserva, I would like to highlight the beautiful jewels from La Rioja Alta: Remirez de Ganuza, Roda, Finca Allendeor Vinedos de Paganos with El Puntido among others… Pure elegance that will conquer any palate whether you are a wine drinker or not. Still there are many other superb wines like the ones made by Alvaro Palacios, Marques de Murrieta, Luis Canas and of course, the old Viña Pomal from Bodegas Bilbainas from XIX Century or even the well known Beronia, of which I still keep an empty bottle from their founding year in 1973.