Saturday, 8 February 2014

Marqués de Riscal - Tradition and Modernity

Great afternoon sunshine at the tasting, View 62
As much as he is proud of the wine, José Luis Muguiro, one of the owners of Marqués de Riscal, is also proud of the history and development of the estate, founded in 1858 and one of the oldest wineries in Rioja.

First the wine: the grapes come only from the Rioja Alavesa region, the best sub-zone in Rioja with vineyards at up to 800m altitude. Apart from the traditional grape varieties of Tempranillo, Graciano and Mazuelo, Marqués de Riscal has also planted Cabernet Sauvignon since 1858 and is one of the very few wineries that are allowed to have Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. And it was precisely because the quality of its Cabernet Sauvignon so impressed Paul Pontallier, the then technical director and now managing director of Chateau Margaux, that in 1998 he agreed to become a consultant to Marqués de Riscal in charge of blending its top range. The Barón de Chirel 2006 we tasted, with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend and aged in French barriques, clearly has the footprint of a Bordeaux. It is, according to José, a wine that combines tradition and modernity.

In addition to the Frenchman, the estate has also secured the help of Frank P. Gehry, a renowned Canadian architect who designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, to design the ‘City of Wine’, a colossal project that combines tradition and innovation in the heartland of Rioja. The wavy titanium roof of pink, gold and silver houses a hotel and the oldest cellars of Marqués de Riscal. On this occasion, it was not Cabernet Sauvignon but a bottle of Marqués de Riscal 1929, the birth year of Frank (probably with some Cabernet in the blend), that charmed him to agree to take on the project.

And the next big plan? José has decided to call on all international help. Marqués de Riscal plans to invite 10 people, one from each of 10 different countries—the US, the UK, Japan, China, Hong Kong, to name a few—for a 3-day vertical tasting of Marqués de Riscal dating back to 1858 (the founding year). The tasting notes and comments of these experts will be made into a book commemorating the estate. The guests are not finalised yet apart from Japan’s. No doubt a few of our friends in Hong Kong and China will be jockeying for an invitation. I wonder who will be the lucky ones.

Marqués de Riscal is certainly far-sighted. It was the first to produce white wine in Rueda, and in 2011 held an auction of 100 vintages in Beijing. Like many big and long-established companies, it had its downs in the 1980s but has since transformed in the 21st century. Let’s hope it will continue to reinvent itself over the next 150 years.

We also had a vertical tasting of Marqués de Riscal Rioja Reserva 1997, 1998 and 1999. The 1998, coincidentally without any Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend, was voted by most as their favourite of the day.

Marqués de Riscal is available from ASC Fine Wines.

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