Tag Archives: Marqués de Riscal

Penfolds: A Liaison with a Legend

Wine regions are often classified as either “Old World” or “New World”, a convenient, if blunt, dichotomy that in reality means Europe and everywhere else, respectively.

But many “New World” producers are quite uncomfortable with being called ‘new’, given a lot of them have been around for over a century. They’re also wary of the negative connotations the label has with most regular consumers, where it is often thought that the ‘new’ can’t ever be as good as the ‘old’.

But until a more satisfactory and snappy categorisation can be agreed on, then the old Eurocentric terminology will be with us for some time yet. That doesn’t stop New World producers understandably raising the issue in exasperation every now and then, however.

Once such occasion was in 2013, when Australian winery Penfolds was named Best New World Winery by the respected Wine Enthusiast magazine in the US. At the same time the publication also named the famous Spanish producer Marqués de Riscal as their European Winery of the Year, colloquially known to all involved as the ‘Old World Winery of the Year Award’.

penfolds-collage-1

Peter Gago, the Penfolds Chief Winemaker, accepted the award in New York on behalf of the winery, and though he was truthfully very honoured he couldn’t help but raise the old bête noire in his acceptance speech.

Gago pointed out that the ‘historic’ Marqués de Riscal was founded in 1858, a full fourteen years after Dr. Christopher Rawson Penfold established a small winery at Magill Estate, near Adelaide in South Australia, in 1844.

So, effectively, the best “New World” winery that year was older than the best “Old World” winery. And though Gago didn’t labour the point, the inference was crystal clear: the hackneyed terminology we so casually use is not only condescending and potentially damaging, it’s also simply factually incorrect in many cases.

Though it was generous of Gago to raise the flag once again for the “New World”, he personally didn’t need to fret as his winery has perhaps done more than most to take on the big boys of the “Old World”, often winning out in many cases. For Penfolds is one of those wineries that induce misty-eyed admiration from all creeds of wine lovers, given their history, prominence and aspirations – and now thanks to a new innovation by their Irish importers we’ll have a chance to ‘Experience’ Penfolds more easily this Autumn.

In The Mix

Sam Stephens, European Brand Manager for Penfolds, relayed the above anecdote to us this August while he was in Dublin to launch for the first time a set of four mixed cases of wine dubbed The Penfolds Experience Collection.

Tackling the range of Penfolds wines can be a bit daunting, it has to be said. Apart from their critically acclaimed Koonunga Hill range at the introductory level, the vast majority of their wines are known by their ‘bin numbers’, which historically indicated where in the warehouse they were stored.But there isn’t any hierarchy nor any obvious pattern to the numbering, so getting your head around the Bin Range can often be a case of rote learning rather than deduction.

penfolds-collage-2

This is where this new collection of mixed cases comes in. Bringing “learning by doing” to a new context, Irish consumers now have the opportunity to taste through themed cases of Penfolds wines rather than choosing one – often at random – from your off-licence shelf.

 

A Journey of a Thousand Sips…

The experience begins with The Explorer’s Collection, a set of five wines that serve as a wide-ranging introduction to the rarefied world of Penfolds’ Bins, allowing a glimpse of Penfolds’s blending prowess, a taster of a number of grapes they’re adept at producing, and a side-by-side comparison of two takes on that most Australian of grapes, Shiraz.

The case contains the Bin 8 Cabernet Shiraz, their approachable version of the famous “Aussie Blend”; the Bin 138 Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre, Penfolds’s take on the famous trilogy of grapes that call the Rhône their home; the Bin 2 Shiraz Mourvedre, originally released in 1960 and again recently reinstated after hiatus of a few decades; and finally two ‘straight’ Shirazes: Bin 128 which is sourced exclusively from Coonawarra, and Bin 28 Kalimna which is a multi-regional blend.

As the name suggests this is the perfect set from which to start your Penfolds exploration and, despite being from the same producer, offers a wide range of styles to enjoy. Ideal for Christmas, if I may be allowed to mention ‘The C Word” this early!

penfolds-collage-3

A Good Year

Things start to get serious pretty quickly from then on in. Next up is The 2013 Vintage Collection, a set of three pairs of wines retailing at €350 which – you guessed it – were all harvested three years ago.

But it’s not a random assortment, thankfully, and it’s clear some thought has gone into the wines that make up the mix: a 100% Cabernet in the guise of Bin 407, the 100% Shiraz Bin 150 Marananga, and then a Cabernet / Shiraz blend via the famous Bin 389.

This innovative assembly not only allows the chance to hold your own ‘horizontal tasting’ – that is, sampling wines across a common vintage – but it also allows the opportunity to experience two 100% varietal wines before seeing what they taste like blended together. It’s almost like being a winemaker for the day. Almost.

 

The Wine from Dr. Penfold’s Back Garden

If you were paying attention earlier then the name ‘Magill’ will ring a bell – yes, it’s where Dr. Christopher Rawson Penfold established his winery in 1844, so these wines are literally from where it all started.

I’d highly recommend searching for “Penfolds Magill Estate Winery” on Google Maps to witness the unusual sight of what is today a fully-fledged vineyard and winery in the suburbs of a major city, an oddity resulting from the city gradually extending out to – and eventually around – the original Magill Estate vineyard.

The Magill Experience Collection contains three pairs of vintages of the eponymous wine – 2008, 2010 and 2011 – allowing the superb opportunity to taste through the seasons of this tiny walled vineyard that is a mere 8kms from Adelaide city centre.

It’s truly the serious collector’s case and a chance to taste 170 years of history.

 

The Wine at the End of the Earth

The pinnacle. The zenith. The wine that was initially made in secret, such was its revelatory approach. The wine that is only one of a handful in the world to ever achieve 100 points in both the Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator for the same vintage. One of the most collectible wines in the world and the only wine to be listed as a Heritage Icon by the South Australian National Trust, such is its prominence.

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So Penfolds Grange is an important wine, to say the least; a legend in the truest sense. Many wine lovers would consider themselves lucky to even taste Grange, let alone get their hands on a flight of three different vintages.

But that opportunity is a distinct possibility today, thanks to The Grange Experience Collection. Though not cheap at a hearty €3,000, to buy a single bottle on its own can cost roughly €700-€800, depending on the retailer. If you can find a bottle, that is.

The 2009 is best enjoyed first with its generous lush fruit. Then you can argue over whether to sample the concentrated and intense plum and baking spice of the 2010, or the supple eucalypt tinge of the 2011.

Or, indeed, get the Coravin out and enjoy a tasting glass of each over the course of a decade or more. Either way, these wines are in for the long haul.


THREE TO TRY

The Explorer’s Collection
€180 from select specialist off-licences this Autumn.
This really is an excellent intro to the world of Penfolds.

Penfolds: The Australian Wine Legend you Can Count On

The 2013 Vintage Collection
€350 from select specialist off-licences this Autumn
I really enjoyed the thoughtful, straight-forward approach of this case, from the rich but elegantly balanced Bin 407 Cabernet to the heady and opulent Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz, finishing at the famous “Baby Grange” that is the decadently delicate Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz.

Penfolds: The Australian Wine Legend you Can Count On

The Magill Experience Collection
€600 from select specialist off-licences this Autumn
A real collector’s case, offering three different styles of wine from three distinctly different vintages. Start with the austere, maturing 2008 then move on to the fuller but still restrained 2011 vintage, before finishing on the opulent 2011 tinged with baking spice and blackberry.

Penfolds: The Australian Wine Legend you Can Count On

 

This post originally appeared on TheTaste.ie

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Wines I’ve Had Recently: December 2014 to February 2015

Things have been quiet of late on The Motley Cru. Instead of apologising I’ll boast instead: I was on holiday for a couple of weeks in much sunnier climes, lazing by the beach and doing a whole lot of nothing. That meant a packed work schedule a couple of weeks  before and another couple of weeks after the trip away, and so here I am a whole month-and-a-bit on from my last post.

I’ve lots of material for another few posts, which I’ll cobble together over the coming week or two, but for now let me update you on what I’ve been drinking over the last few months:

 

Michel & Stéphane Ogier Syrah La Rosine 2009
VdPdes Collines Rhodaniennes. 100% Syrah
€27.95 from The Vineyard and The Corkscrew

Beautiful, changeable nose over a beautifully knit palate. This is a really classy, quality wine, and though it doesn’t perhaps have knock-your-socks-off complexity it still offers plenty of interesting dark, gamey, spicy fruit over a silky palate of perfectly pitched tannin and acidity.

Perhaps it’s not as long in the mouth as it should be, but that said it is still a beautiful wine that was still drinking well into its third day, showing some interesting dark fruit, clay and some cinnamon spice.

 


Patrick & Christophe Bonnefond Sensation du Nord 2009
VdP des Collines Rhodaniennes. 100% Syrah
€19.99 from Jus de Vine

Another Syrah from an area called Collines Rhodaniennes in the Northern Rhône, an area I discovered for the first time via Simon Tyrrell at the Ely Big Tasting a couple of years ago, and which wraps aroudn the much more famous regions of Côte Rôtie, Condrieu and Hermitage.

This was lighter on the palate than the La Rosine but still had some deep black forest fruit and more gamey sous bois characteristics than expected. It’s fresh and has nice acidity though not too complex, but this shouldn’t detract from what is an enjoyable, good quality everyday wine.

 

Emiliana Coyam 2009
D.O. Colchagua Valley. 41% Syrah, 29% Carménère, 20% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Mourvèdre, 1% Petit Verdot
€22.99 from O’Brien’s, Searson’s and Vanilla Grape

This is a bit of a bruiser that takes kindly to a bit of air time, so be sure to glug it generously into a jug and leave it breathe for a while before approaching. 100% organic, as is the want generally of this well-respected Chilean producer, this has juicy brambly fruit with deep spicy blackberry notes on the nose; the palate is notably dry with more ripe black fruit coming through.

It’s quite the mélange of grapes (see above) and I do wonder Its punchy 14.5% means it’s tricky to get beyond a couple of glasses, so this is one for sharing amongst friends with some seriously meaty food. Some six years on from vintage hasn’t softened it out yet and I’m not sure it’s one for keeping a hold of for too long, though Emiliana claim it can last 12-14 years.

 

Bodegas Sierra Cantabria Rioja Colección Privada 2007
D.O.C. Rioja. 100% Tempranillo
€38.49 from O’Brien’s

I was gobsmacked when I tasted this at the annual O’Brien’s Fine Wine Sale a few years ago and instantly bought a couple of bottles; this is my last one, unfortunately.  It’s really gorgeous, smoky and electric, long and balanced yet rich, developing nicely over the course of the evening. Which is exactly how I enjoyed it: in a big glass by the fire in December. Bliss.

 

Antinori Cervaro della Sala 2008
Umbria IGT.  85% Chardonnay, 15% Grechetto 
€51.95 from The Corkscrew

This is the famous Antinori family’s flagship white wine, made mostly from Chardonnay. This of course causes constant comparison with Burgundy, but perhaps unknown to many is the very Italian nose-thumbing in the form of a generous dollop of Umbria’s local Grechetto variety.

It has a chameleon-like nose, starting buttery and progressing through lemon-and-lime then matchstick and finally on to peach and spice.
On the palate there’s butter again, yellow apple and that matchstick characteristic again. The palate itself is silky smooth with just enough acidity to keep it afloat. An intriguing wine.

 

Château Gloria 2008
Saint Julien. 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot.
€55.25 from Searson’s and Fine Wines

This was the wine on which I first properly tested my new Coravin, and a perfect example of the revolutionary device put to good use (which I’ll elaborate on in a different post later). It would otherwise be too young to drink this wine, but having a Coravin meant that I can have a glass then, a glass in six or twelve months later, another glass six months after that … and so on, watching the wine evolve over the years. This is definitely still young but nevertheless very drinkable: rich ripe fruit with touches of cedar and oak and blackberry. A little simple now and will no doubt evolve over time.

 

Yalumba ‘Y Series’ Viognier 2009
South Australia. 100% Viognier
€15.99 from Deveney’s, Greenacres, thewineshop.ie

The nose of this was promising, offering the characteristic apricot-and-honey scents that Viognier is famous for. However the palate was a let-down – flabby and lacking any supporting acidity, it was a little like melted-down gum drops. Without that bit of backbone this is unfortunately a bit of a mis-fire, which is unfortunate for this otherwise laudable winery.

 

Château La Tour Figeac 2007
Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé. 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon
€48.00 from Mitchell & Sons

Rich and satisfying, heady scent of macerated black fruit. The palate is fleshy and continues the dense, rich fruit theme. Nice fine tannins that are enjoyable now but can knit further for a few years at least, with good length. Very enjoyable now and will be over the coming years.

 

Marqués de Riscal ‘150 Aniversario’ Rioja Gran Reserva 2001
D.O.C. Rioja. 90% Tempranillo, 8% Graciano, 2% “Others”
€50.49 from Donnybrook Fair, Dublin; Redmond’s of Ranelagh, Dublin; Vintage Wine Investments, Killarney, Kerry

I wrote about this in a previous post, but this time around I enjoyed it so much more than previously – and the last time it was really good. This bottle showed much more life than the last one, giving up an ultra-savoury, gamey palate and a nose that was heady and decadent. It was sipped on the fly so I couldn’t mull over it too long, but it struck a chord and has been memorable since.

 

Ornellaia 2011
D.O.C. Bolgheri. 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot
€165 from Cabot & Co. (or €150 for the 2009 from The Corkscrew and Mitchell & Sons)

Bolgheri is on the Tuscan coast in Italy, and this is one of a prestigious set of wines called “Super Tuscans”, or those that defied Italian wine laws in the 70s and 80s by growing “foreign” – i.e. not indigenous – grapes on their lands, resulting in their wines being downgraded to simple table wine status. Never mind, these rebels continued to make what they perceived as the wines that best suited their particular climate, bureaucracy bedamned. The result was a massive shift in perception of the quality of Italian wines both domestically and world wide, and kick-started a quality revolution in the country as a whole. The rest, as they say, is hostory; eventually the laws were changed to accommodate them.

Another wine sipped on the fly, this was impressive from the get-go: grilled meat, blackcurrant, ever-evolving. Tightly structured and needs to unwind a little. A stunner that demands a re-visit in a few years’ time.

Marqués de Riscal: 156 Years in 156 Minutes (Part 2)


Read part one of this feature by clicking here.

The Reds

1860 Tempranillo
€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…

 

Jose Luis

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.

 

José Luis with a bottle of Frank Gehry Selection 2001 (photo by Kevin Ecock at firstpress.blogspot.com)

 


Kevin Ecock was also at the tating and wrote a good piece on it which you can read here.

Marqués de Riscal: 156 Years in 156 Minutes (Part 1)

The title is roughly true – give or take an hour – but never let the truth get in the way of a catchy headline.

This is the next in my series of blog posts titled “Clearing Accumulated Crap Off My Mac Desktop” (click here for the previous cathartic ramble) comes this one on iconic Rioja producer Marqués de Riscal.

In all seriousness my delay in posting this has nothing to do with lack of enthusiasm or respect. In fact it’s quite the opposite: I originally misunderstood Marqués de Riscal to be one of those many big old Riojas favoured by boorish cigar-chomping bankers that choose it simply because it’s one of the only wine names they know beyond “Chablis” and “Claret”.

However I’m glad to say that my perception changed for the better when a few months ago Señor José Luis Muguiro – officially titled Global Sales Manager but in reality a sort of catch-all ambassador, figurehead, historian, consultant, family member and much more – visited Ireland. Regular readers will have read (I hope) my interview with him in a previous post.

And so I ended up writing this a somewhat longer and heavier post than expected, partly due to a newfound respect and admiration but also due the number of wines on tasting, requiring this to be split into two parts (I’ll really have to start becoming more concise). Oh, and I was too busy and lazy until now to edit it. Whoops!

Old-school Riscal winemaking (Image: marquesderiscal.com)
Old-school Riscal winemaking (Image: marquesderiscal.com)
The Company

Having been established in 1858 or 1860 by either Camilo Hurtado de Amézaga or Guillermo Hurtado de Amézaga – depending on what source you trust – Marqués de Riscal is one of Rioja’s oldest wineries and very widely known to many, but I didn’t realise the history of how instrumental they were in revolutionising the wine industry in Spain.

Hurtado de Amézaga (as we’ll call him for simplicity), founder of Riscal (as we’ll call it for simplicity), produced wines in the typically local way for a few years before reverting to the practices of the region from which he emigrated to Rioja: Bordeaux. Out went the big old wooden barrels and in came smaller, new oak barriques, along with a new-fangled grape variety called Cabernet Sauvignon and the practice of bottling only grapes that were estate-grown, amongst other things.

Not only that, but Hurtado de Amézaga invented the gold wire mesh that is seen on many a bottle of Rioja nowadays, an anti-fraud measure designed, depending again on who you ask, to prevent empty bottled being re-filled with lesser juice (where the net needed to be cut to open the cork) or to stop expensive labels being stuck onto bottles of inferior wine. Either way our Hurtado was proving himself to be quite the polymath.

That famous Riscal gold wire netting
That famous Riscal gold wire netting

But it wasn’t just 19th Century Rioja that Riscal set about shaking up. Dissatisfied with the greasy, overly-oaked whites produced in Rioja at the time, Riscal pre-empted the fashion for crisp, clean whites by a good 40 years and discovered a style they best preferred in a little-known region northwest of Madrid called Rueda, planting their first vines there in 1972 and pushing for the establishment of the area as a recognised Denominación de Origen in 1980. Rueda, needless to say, is now one of the most popular white wines you’ll find on restaurant lists worldwide.

Finally, their release in 1986 of a top-end, Cabernet-heavy wine they called Barón de Chirel prompted the entire Rioja region to explore making fuller, more internationally styled wines, again predicting a trend that was to take off around 10 years later.

Throw in an outlandish, futuristic, award-winning hotel and winery complex and you’ll probably more clearly understand that “nothing stands still for long at this traditional, but consistently innovative bodega”, as Tim Atkin remarks in this immensely helpful and concise article.

This unusual mix of history mixed with revolutionary impulses was acknowledged by US magazine Wine Enthusiast when they named them European Winery of the Year last year, highlighting that it was their “willingness to take risks, and the successes that have resulted” that sealed the deal for them.

 

The Whites

We started off with two white wines from Rueda: one made from Sauvignon Blanc and the other from the local Verdejo variety. Given that Riscal were pretty much the first commercial winery in the area this meant that the vines for the first two whites are largely from 1974-1976.

Marques de Riscal Sauvignon Blanc copyMarqués de Riscal Sauvignon Blanc
€14.49 from SuperValu; Londis; Centra; Molloy’s Taverns, Dublin; O’Brien’s, nationwide; Next Door Off Licences nationwide

Interestingly, the company initially started out planting Chardonnay alongside Verdejo in Rueda, but a few years of capricious frosts pointed the company towards Sauvignon Blanc, which took to the colder weather better.

This has a herbaceous and yellow fruit character that stands it apart from the overt New Zealand style that has become so tiring over the years, with some zinging acidity initially that softens out mid-palate.

 

Marques de Riscal Rueda copyMarqués de Riscal Rueda
€13.49 from SuperValu; Londis; Centra; Molloy’s Taverns, Dublin; O’Brien’s, nationwide; Next Door Off Licences nationwide; http://www.thewineshop.ie; Mitchell & Sons, Dublin; Fine Wines, Limerick

This was much more to my style and had a really lovely, intensely aromatic nose and was lively all through the palate. It was simple and refreshing, and cried out for seafood. It was summer in a glass, but unfortunately I was distracted half way through tasting and didn’t take any more notes. Not to worry, just take it that this is definitely recommended.

 

Marques de Riscal Rosado copyMarqués de Riscal Rosado
€13.49 from Next-door Off Licences nationwide and Joyce’s of Galway

Before moving on to the reds we crossed the bridge of Rosado. It has a fresh but slightly muted nose that carried a suggestion of cranberry juice. The palate was slightly herbal and quite dry with hints of cranberry and raspberry. It used to be 100% Tempranillo but Garnacha was added to the blend to lighten the colour, bowing to market preference for more pinkish-coloured rosés and giving it a more Provencal look in the process.

 

 

Click here to read part two.

A Chat with José Luis Mugurio of Marqués de Riscal

In May this year Señor José Luis Muguiro of famous Rioja producer Marqués de Riscal visited Ireland after a hiatus of a number of years. His official title is General Sales Director, but as always with historic, family-run wineries his duties are multifarious: he does indeed oversee Marqués de Riscal’s sales in the over 105 countries their wines are sold, but he is also Brand Ambassador, Business Development Manager, Spokesman, Figurehead, Historian, and much more besides.

Marqués de Riscal Logo

From the winery’s foundation in 1858 to 1945, Marqués de Riscal was owned by founder Hurtado de Amezaga’s family, with the Muguiro family joining the firm 1945 when the winery became a public limited company at the end of the Second World War.

So though on paper the company is a PLC and responsibilities are shared amongst a handful of separate interests, Marqués de Riscal still maintains that idiosyncratic family-run feel and its associated values, such as a deference to the past (and not just for PR purposes), an almost zealous dedication to quality and process, impressive humility given their size and stature, and – my favourite – a far-sightedness beyond the quarterly results reports to shareholders, the downfall of many large wineries.

Food & Wine Magazine were interested in doing a piece on him for their ‘My Foodie World’ section and I volunteered to put the questions to him before he held a comprehensive tasting of their portfolio of wines available here in Ireland via Findlater Wine & Spirit Group.

I was fortunate to also attend that tasting and will write up my notes from it next week, but for now I’ve written up an extended version of the interview with this interesting character:

 

José Luis Outside The Merrion in Dublin
José Luis Outside The Merrion in Dublin

The Motley Cru: What’s your earliest foodie memory?

José Luis Mugurio: My earliest food memory was in a restaurant in Madrid called Goizeko Kabi where I had fried egg with baby eels, which is a delicacy in Spain that they call “Spanish Caviar.” They’re fished during the winter time and are a real delicacy in Spain.

 

MC: Are they like little silverfish…?

JLM: They’re known as … [consults] … ‘elver’ eels in English

 

MC: When I visited my friend in Madrid a few years ago we had these little silverfish that I thought might be…

JLM: Well then your friend must be very wealthy as they’re very expensive!

 

MC: Oh really? OK, maybe not!

JLM: The name of these in Spanish is Angulas, and normally you eat them on the last day of the year, the 31st December, and the prices nowadays are huge as the Japanese have discovered them. You enjoy them simply with some garlic; they’re fantastic.

 

MC: What wine would you enjoy with them?

JLM: You actually have two wines: the [Marqués de Riscal Rioja] Reserva would go really well, and if people would prefer white it would do with the [Marqués de Riscal] Sauvignon Blanc.

 

MC: Where is your favourite place to eat?

JLM: There is a restaurant in San Sebastián called Arzak which has three stars, and I’ve known the family for many years. I like the traditional cuisine from the area, especially the calamari and other fantastic seafood like their turbot.

 

MC: And the best wine you ever drank?

JLM: I’ve been able to drink many wines from many different parts of the world, but by far the best wine I’ve tasted is the 1945 Marqués de Riscal Rioja Reserva that I’ve been lucky enough to taste three times. It received 99 points by both Wine Spectator and Robert Parker and is one of the very few wines in the world to achieve that score in both publications.

 

MC: You say you’ve tasted it three times…?

JLM: Yes I’ve tasted it three times in my lifetime. Once was with Robert Parker at a big tasting in Logroño, the second time was with friends from Laurent Perrier and the third time was with a writer from Wine Spectator.

 

MC: What is your favourite wine region?

JLM: Rioja, of course. No, really, people don’t realise that Rioja is one of the few regions in the world with a vast library of old vintages [back to 1858]; for example we have had our consultant winemaker Paul Pontallier from Margaux in Bordeaux taste through our library to see how winemaking has changed over the last century as France had most of their own old vintages taken from them during World War Two. The region is really the place that has the best old wines, and this is why I like Rioja.

 

Marques de Riscal Frank Gehry Selection copyMC: Who would you most like to have around for dinner and a glass of wine?

JLM: The person is going to be a man, and it’s going to be Frank Gehry, our architect, because he is so emotional about the Riscal winery, and so I would like to have a glass of his wine – the Frank Gehry Selection Gran Reserva 2001 – with him.

 

MC: If you were ‘king of the wine world’ what would you do?

JLM: I would really like to have the opportunity to have a lot of very old vintages from Rioja to sell all over the world, but to have much more than we already have because they’re absolutely amazing and most people don’t have the possibility to taste what is available, so I would love to have the ability to offer many people these amazing wines from the old days of Rioja.

 

MC: What’s the oldest wine you’ve had from Rioja?

JLM: We have wines back to 1858, since our foundation. Over the years we have carried out vertical tastings and also held auctions; in fact we are the only winery to have held an auction in Beijing containing over 120 vintages, which no-one else has been able to due as many lost their old vintages during the Second World War. We are the only ones – I believe, I guess – that have wines since our foundation – every single year.

 

MC: Wow. Have you tasted them all?

JLM: I haven’t tasted 1858 but I’ve tasted the 1900, which was absolutely amazing and was awarded 98 or 99 points by Parker too, but other members of the family have tasted every single vintage. Others I’ve tasted were 1922, 1938, 1945, 1964 and 1952, which were all the good ones. And 1958.

 

MC: And they’re still…?

JLM: They’re still very drinkable, and some still had the original cork!

 

Watch this space for a report on all of Marqués de Riscal’s wines available in Ireland!

Window of Opportunity

People ‘in to wine’ are guaranteed to have one or more valuable bottles languishing at the bottom of their cellars which were either gifted to them, were forgotten about until recently, or bought on a whim. Either way there is something lacking, and that’s full knowledge of the wine and thus, to the wino at least, some anxiety regarding its drinking window.[singlepic id=21 w=320 h=240 float=right]

A wine’s drinking window, to the uninitiated, is the ideal time in which a wine is to be enjoyed. It may come as a surprise to some but wine doesn’t last forever, and in fact it starts rapidly deteriorating after a point, its ‘peak’. The drinking window is the period just before and after (to an extent), the zenith whereby the wine is at its utmost expression.

A wine’s drinking window is massively dependent on a variety of things; but the biggest factors, of course, are the producer, the grape and the way its made. At least you can estimate those elements to some degree; supermarket wines (those under €15 for example) don’t really age because they’re meant for immediate consumption, so if you’re buying a wine to age then the intent ensures that you’re half way there already.

The problem, though, are the other variables that play a part that are more, well, variable. These include the vintage (the year in which it’s made), the particular area the wine is from, how the producer handles such considerations (it’s still very possible for a good producer to produce bad wines) and even storage conditions of the wine since bottling.

So that means that, despite how educated you are about wine, you’ll never find out how it’s drinking until you actually open the bottle. This provides ample fodder for debate amongst wine lovers everywhere and even major wine writers can disagree completely over how long a wine can be expected to improve/last.

So back to the original point: the fact that some will have a bottle or two for which they have little or no prior knowledge and as such are at a disadvantage about its drinking window, as opposed to someone who does a little research before committing to a particular bottle. It’s like getting a car without a test drive or its service history .

And so it was that I had a bottle of Marqués de Riscal “Baron de Chirel” Reserva 2001, which was gifted to me a few years back. Baron de Chirel is one of the top top wines from Marqués de Riscal, so you’d expect it to last decades. But should I? I don’t know. Will it drink now, or should I keep it? What’s the point in keeping wines for too long anyway, and shouldn’t I carpe that diem and drink it now? The finest moments in wine are often experienced on a whim, so I should open it now and feck it. I should, I should … but would the whim be best experienced now or next year? And so on.

So I opened it. It was delicious. Lots of big dark fruits like plums and blackberries, and after a while the gamey savoury-ness  and leather notes you often hear about regarding aged Tempranillo (from which Rioja is made) and then, of course, lots of chewy vanilla.

This comes from the extended aging in oak which imparts vanillin characteristics to the wine – Rioja Reserva wines are required by law to age at least three years before release, of which one full year must be in oak, and in the case of Baron de Chirel 2001 it’s 21 months. I’m not mad into that vanilla thing that almost all Reserva Riojas are guaranteed to have, but it’s part of the package so I just learn to put up with it.

What’s more the wine was delicious all evening, and even into the next day, where I took a sip the following morning, all in the name of research of course. The tannins were nice and subtle and the length was fab. All in all, a good decision to open.

But did I time it right? The internet is ambiguous in this regard. Cellar Tracker, a social-media approach to wine where wine lovers post their own views on thousands of wines, tells me the drinking window ended in 2008, which is what Wine Spectator said too. nicofisher, one of its users, assured me that it still has five years ahead if it. The grande dame of the wine world Jancis Robinson says it’ll last to 2020. So I hope you can understand why this is not a straightforward issue.

As for me? Yeah, whatever. But I wonder what it would have been like in five years’ time…

Marqués de Riscal “Baron de Chirel” Reserva 2001
As it was a gift I’m not sure how much it was, but expect it to be around €50
Rioja, Spain
85% Tempranillo, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon
www.marquesderiscal.com