Perhaps no producer makes the case for aging white wine better than R. López de Heredia, the famed Rioja traditionalist whose wines are typically aged for a decade or more, including years in oak barrels, before release. I got to experience one of these unique wines again last week at dinner with friends at a New York restaurant. All of us ordered fish – sea bass, skate and sea scallops -- and I wanted a fairly robust white wine that would hold up to the panoply of sauces and reductions. The sommelier suggested a Spanish chardonnay-viura blend, but right above it on the wine list I noticed López de Heredia’s 1989 Viña Tondonia Reserva. Yes, 1989. This 22-year-old white wine – Tondonia is the name of the vineyard -- was a deep golden color but still had a wonderfully fresh aroma that also suggested the slight oxidation that occurs with such age and that is an intriguing hallmark of López de Heredia’s white wines.
The blend in this vintage was 90 percent viura, the main white variety of Rioja, and 10 percent malvasia, and I was struck by the wine’s still-vibrant acidity, which confirmed my instinct that it would be a superb match for our food. Then, as it warmed up and opened up a bit, the complexity emerged – pear, some butterscotch, subtle raspberry and cherry notes followed by orange and cedar on the back end. A bit sherry-like? Yes, but with fruit that was still fresh and vibrant even though it was harvested the year the Berlin Wall came down. While it appears that the 1989 vintage is no longer available at retail, wine-searcher.com lists a number of mid-1990s vintages in the $40 range. Viña Tondonia is a unique and memorable wine to sip slowly and contemplate from a producer that teaches us the value of tradition.