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The iconic Txori-Toki tower of Lopez de Heredia...the words Txori-Toki are
Basque and translate to something like the "bird house."
- LÓPEZ DE HEREDIA
is one of those "old world" producers which is truly "old
world." Though it's in the hands of the third Generation, not much has changed at this venerable Rioja estate since they
got indoor plumbing back in the...well, whenever they got indoor plumbing.
While we live in a hurry-up, fast-paced world, these folks still cling to
something called "tradition." And it's a wonderful
tradition, at that. But I daresay it's not a style of wine that is
easily understood by today's "gobs-of-fruit" or "hedonistic
experience-seeking" wine drinker looking for in-your-face wines with
plenty of extract (and then some) and a forest-full of new wood.
Stepping into the cellars of Lopez de Heredia is like entering a time
machine and setting it for something close to a hundred years ago.
Maria José, Mercedes and Julio César seem committed to retaining the place
much as Grandpa had left it.
Much of the equipment in the winery is from the old days.
- Maybe the electric lights are a concession to modernity...they ferment
in those large oak vats, some of which are more than a hundred years old!
So this property is one of those rare "keepers of the flame,"
so-to-speak. Old time Rioja wines. Here is it: 2014 and they're
just releasing a 1994 vintage wine in their line-up of Gran Reserva reds and the
1991 Tondonia white is just hitting the market!
In this day in age when most 3 year old California Chardonnay is considered
"old," it's amazing to have just received a ten year old white
from Spain! (I tasted their 1964 white and it is still in tip-top
I'd tasted the Viña Tondonia Blanco from 1981 on numerous occasions.
It's a curious wine and, frankly, maybe "practice makes perfect"
because I only recently was able to understand and appreciate this
wine. It's predominantly Viura with a small percentage of
Malvasia. The wine spent some 6 years in barrel and then they give it
another long "rest" in bottle.
They have thousands of old 'barricas' and there are a few fellows
employed to keep those barrels in good condition, as well as making a few
But you won't find the wines from Lopez Heredia to be oaky...
In addition to something like 14,000 barrels, they have a large cellar
full of wines aging in bottle.
The Spanish call these cellars full of venerable bottles the "cementerio"
which translates roughly to the "cemetery."
The mold you see here covers the walls and bottles...it's said to act
like a sponge to some degree, helping keep the humidity level in check.
Elvira showed us through the cellars and winery...
They buy oak and season it themselves before turning the wood into staves
and, ultimately, a barrel.
The cooper's workshop.
- The fellow was working on that barrica and soon placed another
hoop on it. Then he hammered the hoop into place so it would be
- This line-up of staves would soon become a 'barrica.'
Some of the tools of the cooper's trade...
Another unusual wine is their Rosado. Yes. Imagine a Rosado
that's aged for a decade before being released!
Nothing happens quickly at Lopez de Heredia...And a recent vintage was so
popular it caught the Lopez Heredia folks by surprise...they'd not made the
Rosado for a few vintages as sales had been slow...and then, suddenly, it
was in-demand and the remaining supply was exhausted...so was a few years
before they released another vintage of their Rosado.
Currently (June 2021) we have a few bottles of the 2010...many years in wood
of some sort and then patiently aged in bottle and released in 2021!
The Rosado was made from Tempranillo (30%), Garnacho, as they call it (60%) and Viura
(10%). In a time when Napa vintners leave a dark, big Cabernet in wood
for 12 months, Lopez de Heredia allows this slumber for four years in
barrel. It's bottled unfiltered, too. The wine has an onion skin
color and, as you might expect of a ten+ year old "pink" wine,
it's not especially fruity.
Their wonderful Viña Tondonia reds are a marvel. If you have an
appreciation for old Barolo or old Burgundy, this is a wine you may find to
be to your taste. The color is brickish, along the lines of old
Barolo. This spends about 6 years in wood and they lay it away for
another 6 in bottle before seeing the light of day. Yet for all that
time in oak, the wines are not woody.
We have some bottles of their 2008 Reserva in stock. These are
best paired with simply-seasoned red meats or a selection of cheeses.
We hosted a dinner and opened a 1954 vintage...mighty fine and it
blossomed nicely with airing.
The 2012 Gravonia struck a chord with us...
It's made entirely of Viura, yet comparisons with some white Burgundies
might be appropriate. This was matured for about 4 years in wood and
then bottled unfiltered.
The wine has a mildly smoky character with a stony element, which is why we
first had a flashback to white Burgundy. But there's a touch of a waxy
note, which is somewhat reminiscent of Semillon wines and a faint tone of a
The Lopez Heredia folks expect this can cellar nicely for another
decade. Maybe. It's pretty nice right now if you appreciate
older white wines.
If you don't, well, never mind.
- Currently in stock:
2010 ROSADO $69.99
2012 GRAVONIA BLANCO $34.99
2008 VIÑA TONDONIA Reserva $56.99
2004 VIÑA TONDONIA Reserva Magnums SALE $99.99
- This little estate was once in the hands of a monastery before being
acquired in the late 1800s by the
Vicente family. They sold is to a fellow named Carlos Mouriño, who
also owns a Spanish soccer (futbol) team called Celta de Vigo. The
team is not exactly the New York Yankees or San Francisco Giants of recent
Luckily for Mouriño, his winery is a winner!
- They make a wonderful Albariño. The wine has been consistently
good and we are now offering maybe the sixth or seventh straight vintage... The fruit comes from vineyards
on slate and granite and the resulting wine shows a mildly stony
quality. Whether or not the soil contributes this minerality is
When you taste the wine you'll immediately sense it's not the work of a
big, corporate drinks company. The aromas are mildly fruity,
recalling lemon and a streak of peach. It's dry and crisp, so the
acidity lends itself to service with seafood (and how!). There's
nothing really fancy about the wine apart from they farm for quality as
there's a gorgeously intense character of Albariño with that hint of
spice lurking in the background.
If you're a fan of Chablis, this Spanish white may tickle your fancy.
It's been extremely popular and most customers who've tried a bottle have
returned for a second or a case!
Currently in stock: 2019 TURONIA ALBARIÑO $21.99
TXOMIN ETXANIZ "TXAKOLINA"
- There's a small town by the Bay of Biscay in Basque
country called Getaria. The only hotel in town had but about four or five
rooms when we first visited in the mid-1990s.
Now there are numerous places for visitors to stay.
There were numerous restaurants scattered around town, all serving incredibly fresh
fish. Getaria is a fishing village, well-known, it seems, in the gourmet community.
The small fishing fleet departs every night, returning in the morning with their
The recipe for preparing the fish is simple: an open wood fire, the fish, salt and
olive oil. The fish is set on the grill, cooked for the appropriate amount of time
before being dished up and topped with a drizzling of olive oil.
We paid something like $60 (this is 25+ years ago) for a two-pound fish.
The wine to go with this marvelous
seafood is called "Txakolina" or "Chacoli."
Most Txakolina wines are made from a blend of red and white grapes, the red
being vinified as without skin contact so as to make a "white"
The Spanish drink most of the Txakoli produced in this small Basque
area. Only a few bottles of the million (or so) are
So...you know the people of this region are Basque. Do you know what their kids are
But seriously...this family traces its roots back to the mid-1600s, citing
the presence of Domingo de Echaniz, while today the property is owned by the
Txueka-Etxaniz clan, apparently descendants of old Domingo.
We do have some bottles of the Txomin Etxaniz 2020...lovely, crisp, light
and with a faint touch of CO2 in the
wine. This is done purposely by fermenting the juice at low
temperatures and keeping the wine cold until it's bottled. The alcohol
level is low, as well, making it a real pleasure to pair with good seafood.
- Currently in stock:
TXOMIN ETXANIZ 2020 Txakolina $25.99
- This is the property adjacent to
the fabled Vega Sicilia winery in the Ribera del Duero
The owners, the Alvarez family, wanted to produce a more modern-styled wine
as a counterpart to the traditionally-made Vega Siclia wines.
Its wines are far more modern than Vega Sicilia and anybody with half a
palate is certain to appreciate the wine of this estate. Unfortunately the modest
production is highly-regarded by anybody who knows anything about Spanish wines. We
receive a small allocation each vintage and this is snapped up by savvy wine buyers.
The vineyards for Alion cover about 130 hectares, split amongst three
sites. More than half of the Alion vineyards are situated in the Vega
Sicilia estate. There are 30 hectares around the Alion winery and
another 30 in the town of Pesquera de Duero.
The wine is made entirely of the Tinto Fino grape, also known as
Tempranillo. The grapes are hand-harvested and then put onto a sorting
table for further selection. They insist on fermenting the juice in
large wooden tanks and these are replaced after perhaps just five vintages!
After the fermentation, the wine spends between 14 to 20 months in small
French oak barrels. They use wood you'd typically find in top Bordeaux
cellars. Once the wine is racked into tank for bottling, the barrels
are sold to other wineries...this wine gets the "Grand Cru"
treatment at every step.
On a trip to Europe not too long ago, our pal Norbert opened a bottle of the 1992 vintage....a fabulous
wine. This was still deep ruby-red in color and had the woodsy, cedary notes we
found when we first tasted this wine in 1995 at Vega Sicilia. Paired with
pan-roasted lamb, this bottle was quickly emptied by the trio in attendance that fine
evening. Good thing Norbert has another bottle or two in his cellar near Frankfurt!
We brought a bottle of the 1997 to a dinner in San Francisco in September of
2016...the wine was a shade past its peak, but still quite good and worth
The 2004 and 2006 are currently in stock...these are dynamite red wines and
it's a pity California wine drinkers don't explore these wines more
frequently. They're not inexpensive, of course, but they do compare
handsomely to hundred-buck Napa reds.
A bottle of the 2004, opened in October of 2016, was stellar. Still
youthful on one hand, and evolved and complex on the other. I was
dining with a friend from the East Coast and was putting the cork in the
bottle. There was maybe 20% of the wine still in that bottle but she
said "What the hell are you doing? You can't take that back to
the shop. We're going to drink it!"
And we did.
Tempranillo is the grape, but the wines are of Cabernet
Matured entirely in new French oak,
these have nice cedary, woodsy notes and plenty of dark fruit. They
are showing beautifully at the moment and can probably go another decade, or
We have the 2016 in stock as the most recent vintage. This is a
bright, fruity, dark red. We put it in the "very good" to
"excellent" categories...one of the more showy Spanish reds in the
Currently in stock:
2016 ALION Ribera del Duero SALE $109.99
like Sassicaia was one of the first Italian wines of "serious"
quality to make a splash in international markets, Spain's Vega Sicilia has
long been that county's wine ambassador as an elite red wine.
The property traces its history back to the 1860s. At that time, the
owner ventured to France's Bordeaux region to buy vine cuttings. He
returned with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and, curiously, Pinot
Noir. For many years, however, the estate was perhaps more devoted to
cattle than it was to viticulture and wine. In fact, they produced
brandy from their vineyards and table wine was not, apparently, of
Wine from this estate in Ribera del Duero made a bit of a splash in 1929 at
the World's Fair in Barcelona. Prior to that, however, wine was made
for home consumption to share with friends and family. The estate had
a succession of owners and until 1982 it was in the hands of a Venezuelan
At that point Vega Sicilia (it was originally called Pago de la Vega
Santa Cecilia y Carrascal) was purchased by the Álvarez Mezquíriz
family. And they've invested heavily in the vineyards, winery and its
We first tasted wine of this fabled winery just about the time the ownership
had changed...we were driving from Portugal into Spain for a small tour and
our first night, stumbled into a fancy restaurant which had Vega Sicilia on
its wine list. In those days, there was the top bottling, "Unico,"
a Reserva Especial and two reds given less time in wood, both called
Valbuena (the estate was, in 1840-something, owned by the Marquis de
They made a Three-Years-in-Wood Valbuena and a Five-Years-in-Wood bottling.
I was so excited to see these on the wine list, I ordered two. We sat
in an empty dining room in a 1950s-fancy restaurant and I suppose the waiter
thought we were out of our minds ordering a couple of bottles to drink there
and then asking if we could buy one "to go." But the wines
from Vega Sicilia are hard to get and finding them is not easy.
A decade, or so, later, I was touring Spain with some friends and we
had an appointment at this fabled estate. We'd just visited Alejandro
Fernandez' estate of Pesquera, the "new kid" on the Ribera del
Duero block at that time.
We drove up to the Vega Sicilia estate and found the place to be fenced in
with a security office and crossing gate at the entrance. I went up to
the fellow and presented a business card, explaining we had an appointment
with the export manager. The security guard then demanded I hand over
Huh? I'm visiting what I thought was a winery, not the
I showed him the fax from the export director, figuring that ought to be
sufficient and he again insisted upon my passport. Had I been by
myself, I may have driven off, but my friends were intent upon seeing this
place and tasting its fabled wines and showing my passport was a small price
It turns out the owners of Vega Sicilia, the Alvarez family, owns a
humungous company which provides security guard services, landscaping
services and janitorial services around the world. Apparently they use
their own services at the winery and so the doorway is blocked by a
Well, we visited the estate, seeing lovely vineyards, a spotless cellar and
we tasted some remarkable wines.
They had also just invested in a Hungarian property and were making a Tokaji
called "Oremus." The export manager was positively shedding
tears of joy as he told us of the glories of this new acquisition and the
fabled sweet wine being made there.
The Cellars of Vega Sicilia...
They make a number of really good wines.
Valbuena comes only in one bottling, whereas years ago they had a three year old
and a five year old version. Today it's basically a "five year"
cycle. The wine comes from younger vineyards (currently averaging about 25
years of age) on the estate and it's predominantly Tempranillo with a percentage
of Merlot and a drop of Cabernet Sauvignon.
The 2004 Valbuena is a lovely wine...a bit of dark red fruit and a mildly
leathery note on the nose and palate. It struck me as a somewhat more
interesting wine than the cherryish 2005 Valbuena which seemed to have more
The 2000 vintage of Unico is approximately 93% Tempranillo and 7% Cabernet
Sauvignon. It comes from low-yielding vineyard and older vines, at
that. It was matured first in those large wood vats for 15 months...then
nearly 2 years in small barrels, followed by 15 months in what they describe as
"semi-new" cooperage (your guess is as good as mine) before another 2
years in those large wood vats. So...yes, more than 6 years in cooperage
and then it's given about 3 years in bottle before being offered to the
market. And then you have to know someone to be able to make a purchase
and drop hundreds of dollars for a bottle.
Is it worth its lofty price?
Well, it is an expensive wine, but then I'm shocked these days to see how much
one must pay to acquire a bottle of Lafite or Latour or Mouton. I guess I
can rationalize it in that perspective.
Currently available: 1998 VEGA SICILIA UNICO
2000 VEGA SICILIA UNICO $379.99
2003 VALBUENA $169.99
2004 VALBUENA $149.99
Bartolomé i Vernet family owns this estate in the Priorat sub-region of
Bellmunt, a once-prosperous mining town.
When the phylloxera root louse scourge hit Spain, this place was amongst
the first to embrace the notion of grafting the vines onto louse-resistant
American rootstock. In fact, they claim they still have some
vineyards that are more than 100 years old from those early days!
Priorat, of course, is home to Garnacha and Carignane (Garnatxa and
Samsó). Over the years, Cabernet and Syrah have come into play, though
the Clos Bartolomé bottling doesn't incorporate Syrah while they had been
using some Cabernet.
The Priorat region enjoyed a brief period of fame back in the 1990s when
the market was looking for massive, intensely powerful reds. Over
the years, consumers seem to have found other bottles of expensive wines
to put on the table and sales seem to have lagged a bit.
The first vintage of wine at this estate to be bottled was 1997.
Before that they were selling wine in bulk to other wineries.
We were introduced to this Clos Bartolomé wine by a local Spanish
importer who has a brilliantly-selected portfolio of wines.
Two features we like about the 2017 vintage from this winery: though
the alcohol is north of 15%, it's balanced and drinkable
immediately. Further, it's sensibly-priced so consumers can explore
the Priorat region without bruising their credit card.
As mentioned, this is Grenache with Carignane. It used to have a
small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon, but they claim not to use that
these days. The wine is matured in French oak and they buy cooperage
from a handful of barrel builders. It's a mix of new and used oak
where the wine is aged for about a year.
It's a medium-full bodied red...drinkable now and nicely showy with
food. Consider pairing this with grilled or roasted red meats.
Currently in stock: 2017 CLOS BARTOLOMÉ Priorat $21.99
- The Merayo
family has long had vineyards in the Bierzo region of
They're located about 4 hours by car from Madrid, heading north and a
bit to the west. You'd be a 170-something kilometers east
of Pontevedra on the west coast of Spain. Merayo's vineyards are 230
kilometers northeast of the city of Porto in Portugal.
The vineyards comprise about 15 hectares and the red grape called Mencía
is the focus.
We've been fans of a wine coming from their one hectare vineyard
called Las Tres Filas. It's made entirely of the Mencia grape
and comes from 80+ year old, head-pruned vines.
After its fermentation in stainless steel tanks, the wine is
transferred to French and American oak barrels where it gets maybe 6
months in wood.
The bright red fruit notes of the Mencía grape are a delight and
there's just a touch of wood adding a bit of seasoning and spice to
The 2017 vintage is medium bodied and gentle, along the lines of a
Pinot Noir...maybe a touch fuller than a Pinot.
You have an even greater appreciation for this wine when you factor in
its small price tag...
Currently in stock: LAS TRES FILAS 2017 MENCÍA $17.99
an old Abbey on this massive estate that's been converted into a luxury
hotel and restaurant.
We're told this property was once part of the famed Vega Sicilia
domaine. It's owned by the Swiss pharmaceutical company, Novartis.
They took over the estate in 1991 and brought in Pascal Delbeck, a fellow
from Bordeaux who had been, at one time, affiliated with the famous St.
Emilion estate of Château Ausone.
Delbeck was charged with designing a winemaking facility and in assessing
the various vineyard sites scattered around the 1750 acres that comprise
the Abadia Retuerta. There are some 500 acres devoted to grape
growing. Despite being just a few miles from the legendary Vega
Sicilia estate, Abadia Retuerta is just outside the delimited Ribera del
That prestigious name might have been a good way to promote the Retuerta
wines, but since they can't use that denomination, they're seemingly
hell-bent on establishing their own identity as a source of top quality
In 2005, for example, their 2001 Selección Especial was voted "Best
Red Wine" at London's International Wine Challenge.
Over the years the winery has gained a measure of fame and maybe a little
fortune as they make some really good wines.
Tempranillo is the main grape, but having a Bordeaux consultant, they have
acreage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Syrah on the
A few single vineyard wines are produced, including a micro-bottling of
pure Petit Verdot. There's a Syrah bottling and one of Cabernet
Sauvignon. There's a Sauvignon Blanc/Verdejo blend, too.
But the calling card for Abadia Retuerta is their Selección
We currently have the 2014 and it's a supple, polished, elegant red blend
featuring Tempranillo with 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and maybe the final 10% being
split between Syrah, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Aging in French and American
oak gives a mildly woodsy tone to the wine, but the oak is in the background as
you'll encounter some dark fruit notes up front. It's medium-full bodied
and quite elegant.
Priced at $31.99, we view this wine as being a good
value. The 2014 has soft tannins, so you can easily enjoy this in
the immediate future, though cellaring it for a few years is not out of the
Currently in stock: ABADIA RETUERTA 2014 Sardón de
Duero SELECCIÓN ESPECIAL $31.99