€13.49 from Londis; Molloy’s Taverns, Dublin; O’Brien’s, nationwide; Next Door Off Licences nationwide
After some refreshing whites (especially a lovely Rueda) it was then on to the reds for which Marqués de Riscal is famed. José Luis began with the “1860 Tempranillo” which is from the broader Castilla y León region next door to Rioja. I’m not sure of the history behind this wine as José Luis didn’t bring it up on the day and I’ve found it hard to find anything substantial about it online, but given it’s their ‘introductory red’ for want of a better term, this is understandable.
Coming in a handy screwcap, it had a very fruit-forward style with some juicy sweet cherry, liquorice and toast, with only some minor tannin and acidity. In other words it’s a consumer-friendly, weekday or party wine that can be easily enjoyed on its own. Oh, it’s a blend of Tempranillo, Merlot and Syrah in a proportion of approximately 85/7.5/7.5.
Marqués de Riscal Rioja Reserva 2008
€22.99 from Tesco; Dunnes Stores; SuperValu; Londis; Centra; Molloy’s Taverns, Dublin; O’Brien’s, nationwide; Next Door Off Licences nationwide; www.thewineshop.ie; Mitchell & Sons, Dublin; Martin’s Off-Licence, Fairview, Dublin; and all other good independent off-licences
Finally on to the flagship wine, and it was here that I had my previous misconceptions dispelled. What I remembered to be an unreliably over-oaked, flabby and uninteresting wine (like so many other Riojas I’ve experienced) turned out in fact to offer up more balanced leather and tobacco notes with some typical – but not excessive – vanilla. It was heady and decadent but not too serious, thankfully, as there should always be an element of “mañana” in Spanish wines at this level I think.
The palate was taut and savoury, and again happily devoid of any oaky sweetness. Our host, Brasserie Le Pont, served up some steak sandwiches with aïoli and caramelised onion around this point, and in doing so provided me with one of those epic food & wine pairing moments that some speak about … yes, it’s hardly a revolutionary or innovative match, but my God was it a gorgeous pairing.
Marqués de Riscal Rioja Gran Reserva 2005
€41.99 from Shiels Supermarket Malahide, Dublin; Bradley’s Off Licence, Cork; O’Driscoll’s Supermarket, Cork; 1601 Off Licence, Kinsale, Cork
Then it was on to the more premium bottlings, with their Rioja Gran Reserva first up. While Reserva wines spend one year in oak and two years in the bottle, Gran Reserva wines must spend two years in oak and three in the bottle (or thereabouts). So what you get is a more aged wines which, all things going well, will be deeper, more complex and longer-lasting than the tier below it.
Marqués de Riscal’s Gran Reserva had a less expressive nose than the Reserva, with typical tertiary aromas of black tea with some subtle spice and old faded leather. Though it was a very good wine in its own right I perhaps preferred the more forward and decadent Reserva to be honest, though many would prefer this more austere style I’m sure.
Marqués de Riscal ‘150 Aniversario’ Rioja Gran Reserva 2001
€50.49 from Donnybrook Fair, Dublin; Redmond’s of Ranelagh, Dublin; Vintage Wine Investments, Killarney, Kerry
This is a “particular favourite” of José Luis’s, and it certainly has the regal provenance to back this up: celebrating the 150th anniversary of the winery (duh!) and made from vines averaging eighty years of age, this includes a 5% dollop of Cabernet Sauvignon, something that Riscal are one of the few producers permitted to do in Rioja due to a rule that states that anything planted over sixty years previous is deemed to now be a ‘local’ variety. So lots of history there, no pressure.
This is definitely one that benefitted from time in the glass as it opened up throughout the tasting. Again, like the “regular” Gran Reserva above this was tight and lean with, again, those dried black tea leaves and leather notes, but this time with a definite blackcurrant and pencil lead streak underneath, most likely from the Cabernet (though the power of persuasion could have played a part).
Baron de Chirel 2006
€68.99 from La Touche Wines, Greystones
Here we go, the biggie: its provenance, place in history, the weight of the bottle and even the epic-sounding name all suggest something special, and special it was. There are a few random quips dotted around my tasting notes, things like “so, so good”, “mindblowing”, “amazing” and “texture is incredible”. Nothing but goodness it seems then.
This was the first ‘new wave’ wines of Rioja which used 100% new French oak barriques and use of modern vinification techniques, which was a shock to the family when first produced back in 1986. Nothing better than a rebel wine that delivers the goods.
This had a really elegant and intriguing nose which I dubbed “soft and classy, quite forgiving, so complex but shy” – yep, I can really talk a lot of bullshit when spell-bound. But that can only be a good thing, really. The superlatives in my notes go on: “palate is velvety and elegant, fine grained, incredible, such class, one of the best wines I’ve tasted”. As cringey as these notes read now, looking over it a few months later, to re-word them now would lose the sheer awe and excitement experienced when tasting this wine for the first time. My favourite of the tasting by far.
Frank Gehry Selection Rioja Gran Reserva 2001
Approx.€400.00, but not available in Ireland
The last wine was one of the company’s most revered and rare: the Frank Gehry Selection 2001, which I was told in fact had never been tasted publicly outside the winery before, so quite the treat this was. Of course that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been enjoyed by other people worldwide; in fact José Luis made the passing comment that Frank Gehry himself is single-handedly threatening reserve stocks of the wine by giving bottles away to his family and friends, the latter of which consists of notable names such as a certain Brad Pitt.
This is a very limited production wine named in honour of, and made in association with, the eponymous architect of Marqués de Riscal’s now famous “City of Wine” as a sort of thanks perhaps and also in an effort to continue the relationship beyond construction of their outrageously fantastic building. Indeed, it took Gehry six months to simply design the label, which consists of a pile of squiggles. The artistic process, eh?
The current bottling, José Luis admits, is even now a little closed, which would go some way to explaining my notes that it was somewhat muted and tight with the palate a little overly grippy and concentrated. So some more time, and/or air was needed for this particular bottle, and no surprise there given the forensic approach to making the wine. So as happy as I was experiencing the rare occasion of tasting a €400+ wine, I’d be happy with the relatively modest €70 Baron de Chirel any time…
A Bit of Banter: Screwcaps and Milking Cows
It was then that Señor José Luis Muguiro leaned back, stretched his legs, and gave his time graciously to the gathering, a rarity well appreciated whenever it happens. Being, effectively, a global brand ambassador, José Luis was full of banter and anecdotes, such as the time when he was dispatched to Riverstick in Co. Cork as a teenager in order to improve his English. Imagine that: an exotic, sunned Spaniard rocking up to a small Irish village some 17kms from Cork city, milking cows in his spare time. Even with the most established of families there are always some surprising idiosyncrasies!
The chat also included some revealing research that Marqués de Riscal conducted into the screwcap vs cork closure debate, a debate spurred on by the Riscal’s decision to seal the 1860 Tempranillo under the former. José Luis roughly outlined the tests they did: basically, they put 10 bottles of a wine under cork and another 10 bottles of the same wine under screwcap (he didn’t mention what wine unfortunately).
When they revisited the wines five years later, ten of the ten screwcapped wines were perfect he said. However, seven of the ten wines under cork had “lost colour” (so I’m assuming it was a red), two of the ten were ‘corked’ or spoiled in some way, and only one of the ten was ‘perfect’. Although this experiment is lacking a rigid scientific approach – though I’ll admit we didn’t probe too deeply into the specifics – it is quite revealing that one of the oldest companies in one of the most historic wine regions of the world have shown screwcaps to be more reliable for the purposes under which they tested then. The debate goes on.
Finally, amongst all the wine geekery, José Luis let loose on one of those impassioned monologues that I love in which winemakers sometimes indulge themselves; that is, after yet another question on grams per litre of sugar content or specific level of toasting of the barrels, said wine figure lets loose about the ‘spirit’ of wine rather than its specifics or technical details, the importance of its soul over analytics and technicalities.
For José Luis, his moment came when someone asked about a certain food and wine pairing:
“You hear this stuff about wines smelling like ‘horses’ stables’ … that’s bullshit! The important thing is to make good, fine wine that goes well with food; the important thing is that it’s fine, and that it goes well with food.”
I think that’s a good note on which to leave it.