Rich and Oaky, White Rioja Bends the Summer Standard

It is fair to say that white Rioja is not exactly a well-known wine, nor is it well understood. Many people are not even aware of its existence.

“Ninety-five percent of the customers who order a white Rioja, when the wine comes, they say they thought they ordered a red,” Ashley said.

For those few who are keenly aware of white Rioja, one name stands above all others: López de Heredia, a producer whose zeal in guarding the old traditions of making Rioja is matched only by its fervor for upholding the highest possible standards for its wine.

Almost alone, López de Heredia continues the practice of aging the bottles at the winery until they are ready to drink. This means that the current vintage in the marketplace for its Viña Gravonia crianza, its least-aged white, is 11 years old, the 2006. The latest available vintage for Viña Tondonia reserva, the midage white, is the 2003, and, for the Tondonia gran reserva, which gets the longest aging before release, it is the 1996.

We could not fit the gran reserva into our tasting, as it exceeds our cap of $100 a bottle, but the other two were included, and, needless to say, they took the top two spots. The ’06 Gravonia was our No. 1 wine and received our highest rating, the rarely awarded four stars. It was rich and oaky, yet pulsing with energy, with a coiled core of mineral flavors.

The wines are so singular that we all recognized the producer in the blind tasting. Rachel called it “historical,” and Ashley said “this is what I want when I order white Rioja.” The Gravonia was also our best value at $29.

Theoretically, a reserva like the 2003 would be a step up in concentration and complexity over the crianza, and usually it is. But 2003 was a bizarrely hot year, often resulting in wines of lower acidity than usual. This seemed true with the reserva, which was nonetheless delightful. It was our No. 2 bottle, but it did feel as if it were tiring a bit. The 2006 vintage was also a hot one, but you could…

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