Lopez de Heredia was founded in 1877 by Don Rafael Lopez de Heredia, a Spaniard who studied winemaking in Bordeaux. When he noticed French winemakers arriving in Rioja to plant new vineyards after theirs had been ruined by Phylloxa, Don Rafael decided to start his own winery in Haro, in Rioja. Today the estate is run by the family’s fourth generation, and it is known as one of Spain’s most venerable and consistently excellent producers. Known for its Tempranillos and red blends, the estate also makes white and rose wines. Though admired for its traditional approach to winemaking, it is worth noting that the winery’s new tasting room is a futuristic building completed in the last decade by architect Zaha Hadid, one of the world’s most celebrated and forward-thinking designers. Wine Spectator has noted that “The wines of R. Lopez de Heredia define traditional Rioja, and they set the standards by which the region’s modern reds must be judged.”
Rioja Demoninación de Origine Calificada is Spain’s most important wine region. Located in northern Spain, it comprises 135,000 vineyard acres and was the first official appellation in Spain, earning its official DO status in 1926. In 1991 it became Spain’s first DOCa, Spain’s most prestigious appellation category. The DOCa is divided into three subzones: La Rioja Alavesa in the northeast; La Rioja Alta in the southwest; and La Rioja Baja in the east. About 75 percent of Rioja wines are reds, with Tempranillo the predominant grape. Garnacha (Grenache), Mazuelo (Carignan) and Graciano, a spicy, high-acidity red grape, are also allowed. White wines are made from Macabeo, Garnacha Blanca and Malvasia. Wines were made in this region well before the Romans arrived, though the Romans then the medieval monks refined vineyard management and wine production. In the 19th century French families migrated to Rioja after phylloxera wiped out their vineyards, and the French helped establish the tradition of wine blends, still part of Rioja winemaking. According to the rules for the appellation, a wine labelled a simple Rioja can spend less than a year in an oak aging barrel. A Criziana is aged for at least two years, one in oak. Rioja Reserva is aged at least three years, with at least one in oak. A Rioja Gran Reserva must be aged at least five years, with two years in oak.