What a difference a year makes! As the majority of you who read us regularly are aware, there are likely no greater fans of Rioja, with the possible exception of some of the Riojanos themselves, than we are. One of the rewards of doing this kind of thing, for us, is to get paid for doing something we would do anyway. Today’s exercise gives us the opportunity to talk about a few of our favorite things, specifically one of the revered houses located in Rioja’s ‘holy city’ (Haro), Lopez de Heredia, and one of the greatest vintages we have had the good fortune to experience from the region, 2010.
As to Lopez de Heredia, there is little we need to say about this icon of traditional Spanish winemaking founded in 1892. We have tasted virtually every level of wine they produce, including some historic older bottlings, and have never been disappointed even given pretty high expectations. They do all the right things to create the wines they want to make and charge very attractive prices for the various levels offered. Granted prices have edged up a bit as the world continues to discover the wonders of Rioja, but they are still pretty sensational given the other choices of equal caliber.
As to 2010, it has been a while since we have talked about the vintage. It is a sensational harvest with purity of fruit, ripe tannins, classic lines and fine structure. They are wines that will age decades yet can deliver a glassful of joy next weekend. The Riojanos have definitely been surprisingly low-keyed about the exceptional year, but the rest of the wine world has been unanimous in its praise.
Simply put, releases in Rioja come sort of in waves. For the most part crianzas come out first, followed by reservas and finally gran reservas, all titles very specifically defined by Spanish law based on barrel age and time in bottle. Each winery has their own schedule as to how the wines roll out, though they mostly follow the same level by level pattern we described. Most of the 2010 crianzas and reservas are long gone and we have even moved through a number of the gran reservas. But the top older houses run on a much slower cycle. So we will be seeing a number of the ‘big dogs’ from this great vintage coming out over the next several months. Hallelujah!
As for Lopez de Heredia, they are just beginning on their efforts in 2010 starting with the Lopez de Heredia Rioja Vina Cubillo Crianza 2010, their entry-level bottling. This is where we must make the point again, one of the best houses in one of the best vintages. We have faithfully followed Lopez for years and enjoyed virtually every vintage of Cubillo along the way. This is the best version we have ever tasted by a good bit. Made from 65% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacha, and the rest Mazuelo and Graciano all from estate vineyards, this saw three years in barrel (like a gran reserva) after which it is bottled unfiltered.
Sure it has all of the accustomed sweet cherry and plum fruit, dusty/spicy classic Rioja accents and underpinning of vanilla and balsamic. But there is more weight, power and richness in the midpalate, impeccable balance between the fruit and tannins and a remarkable but refined presence in the glass. Over the course of several hours it evolved glacially, so packed and structured, yet it never ceased to impress. We dare say it is better than some of their Tondonia and Bosconia bottlings we have had in the past, yet this surprising beverage can be had for under $25. Amazing? You bet!
But that’s Rioja, that’s Lopez, and the greatness of 2010.
We were not alone in our praise. Luis Gutierrez of robertparker.com wrote, “The 2010 Viña Cubillo Tinto Crianza is superb and shows great depth and nuance, with great freshness, and the red cherries are complemented by notes of blood oranges, nutmeg and other spices. It has a soft and harmonious palate, with great balance and very good freshness. – 93 Points!”
Given James Suckling’s usual brevity of comments, this is a virtual tome, “Cubillo is a very focused and quite crisp style of red that has spent three years in barrique and then in larger cask to wait for bottling, which happens two years before the expected release. The richness and depth of complex dried wood and spice here is seamlessly sewn into the dried red and dark cherries. The palate is pinned around a fresh-blackberry core that marries still sweet fruit to more savory style. Long and balanced. The tannins are fine yet assertive. It freshens into the finish nicely. Drink or hold…95 Points!”
Great house, great vintage, great price, this one checks all the boxes! This is not to be missed.