Setting the record straight


Last Sunday night I organized a dinner with a group of visiting Canadians with María José López de Heredia from R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia.  María José, ever the engaging speaker, treated the group to an enlightening lecture about the 133 year history of her company.

Everyone knows that after phylloxera attacked French vineyards towards the end of the 19th century, French winery owners came to Rioja in search of wine.  If you read about this period of history in wine books, it was the Bordeaux wine trade that came here.  María José, however, claimed that after extensive research into  records in her winery and others in Rioja, it was discovered that most of the French wineries were from Alsace because Rioja wineries were producing  white, rather than red wine.

Surprised?  I certainly was.  María José explained that in the 19th century, more white wine than red was made and consumed in Rioja, and consequently white was taxed at a higher rate.

Did you ever wonder why red wine in Spanish is called tinto (tinted) instead of rouge (red) as in French or negre (black) as in Catalán?  According to María José, most red wines in Rioja in the 19th century were whites that were ‘tinted’ with red wine to pay lower taxes! While some reds were produced and exported to Bordeaux, according to historical records, most Rioja was white and shipped to Alsace.

In fact, in the 19th century, doctors recommended consumption of white wine for health reasons because the tannins in red were believed to be harmful.

I think it’s fascinating that María José hired an ethnographer to study the winery archives to set the record straight. I’m sure that because of this research, other interesting facts will come to light about the history of Rioja.

18 thoughts on “Setting the record straight

  1. I knew they were heavily influenced by the French then but I am indeed very surprised too that white wine production was higher than red but more by the facts that Alsace winemaker were in higher number that of bordeaux. Although It is Bordeaux winemaker who introduced “barricas bordelesas” in Rioja. Can the research be made available online? i’ll be interested in reading further….
    Very fascinating article. Thank you for sharing.

    • Rob, MJ is so busy now that a blog is probably out of the question. But maybe Luis Vicente Elías (the ethnographer) could do it. All I can do is ask!

  2. The explanation as to the origins of “tinto” for red wine tends to suggest that Iberia was a wine desert before the emergence of Rioja. Surely red wine has been made in Spain for thousands of years – was there no widespread word for red wine outside Catalonia until the emergence of “tinted” Rioja?

    • A good question, John. I’ll have to do some research of my own. I’ll publish it as soon as I find out. Thanks for your comment.

  3. If there’s ever been a question as to why you’re blogging, this should prove it! Thank you for a fantastic piece of trivia that I didn’t know, but had pondered about on many an occasion!

  4. Wow, first I’ve come across anything like that. Really interesting stuff! I’m going to be asking around to see if anyone else knows anything about those tax-dodging scoundrels!

  5. Interesting article, thanks for sharing this! By the way–I’m a self-employed historian….what an awesome job that would be, to study the R. López de Heredia archives! I could make myself available, should Sr. Heredia need…

    • Bruce, The winery already has an ethnographer/historian on the payroll. It would be interesting to know if he plans to write about interesting facts such as the ones María José brought up in her talk. I’ll try to find out.

      • That would be great to hear indeed. My comment was partly tongue-in-cheek, driven mostly by jealousy-what an awesome job that would be! I’m glad to hear that Heredia takes their history seriously enough to have someone like that on payroll. Yes, please share with us any other historical information that you find, or if they plan to publish anything.

  6. Pingback: Thirst for Rioja » A red by any other name – would be tinto

  7. Pingback: Why Spanish red wine is called ‘Tinto’ | Enotria

  8. Pingback: Miguel Angel de Gregorio: Give viura a chance « Inside Rioja

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