Have you ever actually felt the mechanics of a memory in the making? Like a photograph mid-click, you can already sense that this is one you will want to keep in your wallet and return to for decades to come. I am quite certain that these moments hold so much weight, because they are, quite literally, one of life’s rare instances when all the senses are saturated. To see, hear, smell, touch, and taste so intensely—so much so that each sense falls into the next— is indescribably profound.
Such was the other night. The night for Lopez.
Lopez de Heredia wines are, undoubtedly, my favorite wines from Spain. As I have prattled on about in previous posts, this family-run estate has been playing with grapes since the 1870’s, when everyone was leaving phylloxera-infested Bordeaux in favor of growing some roots next door. From then until now, little has changed about how Lopez makes their wine. They craft their own barrels in their cooperage, store their wines for what seems like an ungodly amount of time, at which point they release them to the public when they feel they are truly ready to meet…to socialize with peoples’ palates, so to speak.
Most wineries do no have the luxury of time. They must move their wine and make money. As a result, the choice to age a bottle falls on the consumer. And let’s face it. Most of us are too impatient for such self-discipline and patience.
That’s why I love Lopez wines. They get it. They don’t take for granted their ability to age wines until they are ready for the public. For them, it preserves the integrity of the wine—the integrity of the sale.
Last night, my lips were introduced to the oldest wines yet: the 1947 Viña Bosconia Gran Reserva, 1974 Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva Red, and the 1957 Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva White (amongst other geeky wines that are whole blogs unto themselves: 1988 Salon, 2000 Cantemerle, and the 1994 Eysler Huxelrebe Beerenauslese to name a few).
The ’47 Viña Bosconia, was by far the most shocking. It was remarkably youthful—in color, smell, and flavor. Around the room, whimpers of half-belief stared at the liquid, searching for an explanation, as though written on the rim. “Oh my God,” one person murmured, “It’s still a teen.”
Damp, mossy earth, a patch of wild mushrooms, were the first to say hello, followed by softer, sweeter notes of sweet cherry and pie spice. As air worked its way in over the hour, allowing cocoa dust to have its say. The palate was generous, full, and…so young! I can’t say this wine has even seen its peak yet. Incredible to think this sixty-three year old wine will easily live longer than most human beings, likely into its hundreds were what most of us predicted.
The ’47 Viña Tondonia, though from the same year and their best vineyard, did not seem quite as resilient as its neighbor Bosconia, who lives just a bit higher up on the land, and whom, coincidentally, does not regularly profit from the River Ebro that the flagship Tondonia vineyard borders upon. The ’47 Tondonia was quite hazy and lighter in color than the impossibly rich Bosconia. In terms of grapes, this one saw a bit more Garnacha, a little less Tempranillo, and a touch more Graciano. I am no chemist. But I can observe along with you. The acid seemed a little waning comparatively as well. But the minerals… well, it won there. It blew a sea breeze saltiness to the nose that inspired salivation in a way the physical acid failed to produce.
Whether back vintages or new, someone remarked that I was consistent in my comparisons of the two vineyards. While most people find the Bosconia fuller and fleshier, those I tasted with did not. I disagreed. So I suppose in going against the grain, I was actually taking a stand for popular opinion, ironically… I found the Bosconia deep, spicy, powerful but still elegant—like a hearty Gevry-Chambertain. The Tondonia, on the other hand, I perceived as more focused, leaner, less fruity, and marked with more minerality—perhaps like a Graves Rouge, to extend the metaphor. The framework seemed more raw… more skeletal but sturdy. We all agreed ‘bigger’ was a slippery term with wine. More structure versus more body and fruit both fall under ‘big’ wine characteristics. So I suppose they both are ‘big’ in different ways.
And finally, the one I lost my heart to that night: the 1957 Viña Tondonia white. I held the glass with so much apprehension. I could not bring my nose to the rim for minutes. I just sat and swirled, gazing at the beautiful golden hue. Mid-swirl, a fellow taster stole my attention. Within seconds, I habitually raised the rim to my nose. Shocked, I stopped what I was saying, and put the glass down on the table with a wide-eyed expression on my face. What was that? When the frozen look began to melt, I actually gave out a nervous giggle. I was instantly self-conscious, for I was clearly geeking out. Once I restored myself, I courageously grabbed the glass, gave it another swirl, and took it in for real this time.
My eyes got a bit misty. Fine. A little more than misty. But I didn’t full-on weep.
I know. It’s embarrassing to admit. I wanted to be alone. I turned bright red. Please no one look at me, I thought, fearing paranoia might taint the wine. But I couldn’t help it. I felt a temporary loss of air. It was, quite simply, the best thing I had ever smelled in my life. Every sense—sight, sound, touch, taste, smell—was intoxicated with perfection for a moment.
Wines like this are difficult to describe. But it was something like this from my notes: honeyed citrus (like Tokaji), marmalade on palate, a kind of saline minerality, a golden tea-like color, brown sugar aromas, the finish lasted minutes. Paired with a cave-aged gruyere, I nearly stopped breathing altogether. Everything I had just smelled and tasted became louder with a bite of this semi-soft cheese.
But all silly scribblings aside, this wine was spellbinding. It was the best white wine I have every consumed. Not only for the wine itself, but the history, the winery, the company with which it was shared. It was truly special.
And so, there I was tonight, frozen with nine others, swallowing history, sipping on some stupid good wine, and saying ‘cheese’ to the camera of my mind.