BODEGAS MARQUÉS DE MURRIETA
LA RIOJA’S FOUNDING WINERY
Although still a family affair, Bodegas Marqués de Murrieta has passed from the founding aristocratic Murrieta’s to the equally impressive Cebrian-Sagarriga family from Galicia. However, the strict ‘quality above all’ philosophy that has been the bodega’s guiding light since its inception lives on with the new owners.
To put it in Max Boyce’s parlance, “ I know, because I was there!” And I wasn’t alone.
We’ve just returned from a wonderful five day tour of La Rioja, taking in three different bodegas as well as the beauty of these hallowed lands, bathed in Autumn sunshine, showing the multifarious seasonal colours to absolute perfection. A group of 23 of us enjoyed immensely the fantastic Rioja Wine/Tapas concept, the stunning scenery, the exceptional hotel and of course the bodega tours.
First up was Bodegas Marqués de Murrietta whose restored castle-like, baronial building is totally in keeping with the origins of the bodega. Everything about the bodega speaks of prestige. Our excellent, passionate guide, Miriam, and all other staff wore crested uniforms. There is a hushed air of sophistication throughout the building and grounds. Staff are happy, respectfully deferential and there is an almost tangible feeling of a common goal – simply to be representative of the very best that La Rioja can offer!
The bodega was founded by Luciano Murrieta, originally from Peru, whose distinguished military career in his native country followed by a similarly successful business career in Spain, led him to be created a Marqués. His travels in France, particularly in the Bordeaux area, inspired his love of French style wines and, as he was an important landowner in the Logroño area of Spain, he set about making wines to compare with those over the Pyrenees.
By pure coincidence a dramatic twist of fate occurred in the vineyards of France, which would to be a major help to Murrieta’s wine business as well as that of the second oldest bodega in La Rioja, Marqués de Riscal, and all who followed in their footsteps. Philoxera, a deadly pest arrived in the vineyards of France virtually decimating the country’s vines.
Whilst most French wine makers hastily grafted their indigenous varieties onto American rootstock (the only answer to the Philoxera problem), others moved south, to Spain, where Philoxera hadn’t (yet!) struck. The French had a thirst for wine but home-based producers were not yet able to satisfy that demand. Rioja producers, headed by Marqués de Murrieta, were already making wine in the French style so and huge export market was theirs for the taking.
Of course, we are talking red wine here. Rioja, and indeed Spain in general, has always been known a red wine producer and although it is definitely true to say that the top white wines of Spain now compete with some of the world’s best, Spain still makes far more red wine than white.
So it was a slight shock to see a display of white wines as we entered the well appointed shop on arrival – the more so when, at first, when we saw that half of them were from the north west of Spain, Galicia, where Albariño is queen. The connection became clear as Miriam told us a little of the family history.
The lengthy tour led us initially to the original winery, now beautifully transformed into a large reception area with antique furniture, photos of the current owners with the King of Spain, and a Grand Piano to boot! The next level down was really an almost living history lesson tracing back to the roots of the Marqués’ vision and his subsequent success, and philanthropy too.
The business end of the operation followed – the presses, the oak vats and the cellars all at a lower level ensuring constant temperatures which allows them to produce only the best wines. To give an example, their ‘entry level’ wine, in other words their first and most economically priced wine, is actually a Reserva, and a very special one at that, boasting far longer than the minimum time in oak and bottle before release – in fact a cool 5 years before this Reserva is on the market!
The wonderful, huge modern oak table in the tasting room was as perfect as it was atmospheric. Each place setting had our individual names inscribed along with crystal clear glasses, an impressive folder of information about the bodega and the wines we were about to taste, as well as a small embossed menu of the gourmet tapas with which the wines were to be paired.
We started with the Barrantes Albariño, made on the family’s estates in D.O. Rías Baixas, brilliant in the glass, with a golden hue and faint lime-green flashes. On the nose the typical floral notes, characteristic of Albariño – white flowers, jasmine and magnolia with maybe a slight honeysuckle finish. You’ll note the white peach flavour on the palate immediately – hold the wine there whilst the mouth warms it giving of further fruit flavour, including a touch of apple. Lovely!
That ‘entry level’ wine was next! Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo (which was fermented exclusively in French oak) all combine harmoniously to become the Ambassador of the winery, as Miriam put it. There’s a natural complexity to the wine, brought about by the blend, and this is further enhanced by time in oak, which complements the fruit, rather than hiding it. Whilst fruit is to the fore you’ll also have a feeling of spirits, perhaps Kir in the background. Super!
Just as the Marqués de Murrieta can, correctly, be described as the founder of modern Rioja (that’s modern, in terms of making Rioja wine in the style of the French greats and not in the style which was essentially the legacy of the Romans!), then Dalmau can be described as the definitive modern, modern style of Rioja! It’s an exceptionally good, deeply flavoured and many textured wine which has had just two years in oak and one in bottle made with Tempranillo and Graciano grapes from a single vineyard whose vines can count 86 growing seasons, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon of similar age! Superb, and incidentally the best match I have yet found for the extremely strong blue cheese, Cabrales!
Finally (well, almost) Miriam brought out an extra wine, as we had been so intent and enthusiastic about the tour and the tasting! Capellanía is a white wine made from 90 years old Viura vines in a single plot which has always enjoyed very good sunshine. As vine as old as this produces few grapes but those that are produced are very rich. The wine has been aged for 21 months in new French barrels as is an icon of the traditional white Rioja style. Excellent!
Finally, I couldn’t resist tasting a tiny amount of the flagship wine of the house – Castillo Yguay. A thimble-full costs just over 6€, but it is the personification of Rioja elegance – would that I could afford a bottle!
PS There are just be a few places left for the super Wine/Tapas tasting at Denia’s excellent Republic Restaurant on Thurs. 10th December! This is going to be sensational! Please call me on 629 388 159 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve, asap!