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.