The Wine In Spain Is Mainly Fine

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - March 19, 2008
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Marques de Murrieta Castilla Ygay Tinto Gran Reserva Especial
Marques de Murrieta Castilla Ygay Tinto Gran Reserva Especial

Spain has become an exciting hotbed for great value and quality wines. And there are certain wines to which “up and coming” estates compare themselves. One of those standard bearers often emulated is Marques de Murrieta in Rioja, and for good reason.

This famous estate has deep roots dating back to 1852 when founder Luciano de Murrieta made his first vintage. Luciano was actually born in Peru in 1822 and then immigrated to London in 1824, where his family became bankers. In 1840 he enlisted in the Spanish armed forces and was quickly elevated to commander and assistant to General Espartero, future King Regent. In 1843, he was exiled along with his general to London, where he became familiar with the great wines of the world - Sherry, Port and French wines. After the coronation of Queen Isabel II in 1844, he returned to La Rioja with a desire to make great wines from the local grapes. This motivation led him to visit Bordeaux in 1848 to learn the craft of making great wines. His first shipment in 1852 went to Cuba and Mexico. Unfortunately the shipment to Mexico was destroyed in a storm in the port of Veracruz. However, the shipment to Cuba was heralded “and they were quickly sold out and the news about the wonderful properties of that first-time imported nectar from Logrono was fastly spread” (from the memoirs of Luciano de Murrieta). The wines’ fame has since grown and they are now sold in more than 40 countries worldwide.

Marques de Murrieta estate is almost 750 acres in the Rioja Alta sub-zone of Rioja. It owns all its own vineyards and makes all its wine from its own grapes, thereby having complete control from soil to bottle, unlike other large producers that purchase fruit to make their wines. All the grapes are hand-harvested, which is no small task considering the size of the estate. They are treated with precise care at every step of production.

2004 Marques de Murrieta Rioja Tinto Reserva
2004 Marques de Murrieta Rioja Tinto Reserva

The 2004 Marques de Murrieta Rioja Tinto Reserva ($25) is a blend based on the great Tempranillo grape together with small amounts of Garnacha and Mazuelo for even more complexity. The designation of Reserva means not only is the wine of greater quality, but that the wine must have spent a prescribed amount of time in oak barrels and in bottle. This increased maturation time allows the wine to develop flavors that would be absent in a younger wine. It actually spends 25 months in new and used American oak barrels mellowing its tannins and building layers of flavor. The 2004 version comes out with a beautifully spicy attack of sandalwood, white pepper and a hint of bay leaf. The ample dark cherry and cranberry notes support the spices. It is richly flavored with notes of mocha and vanilla without being heavy.

The 2000 Marques de Murrieta Castilla Ygay Tinto Gran Reserva Especial ($49) is only Tempranillo and a dollop of Mazuelo from selected vineyards and is only made in exceptional vintages, hence the name. It spends 34 months in cask with an additional three years in bottle before even being released.

This is a huge investment in time and quality in the bottle, and it shows. The wine has a unique and heady aroma of poached cherries, sweet vanilla and caramel. It wafts a potpourri of dried roses, hawthorn blossoms, cinnamon and toast. It is ponderous on the palate with a lengthy roasted coffee and dried cherry aftertaste. Every time I go back to the glass I can taste something different. Both are hearty wines and worthy of grilled meat as well as slow-cooked game with herbs galore.

These are reference-standard Rioja which any wine lover should try. They have been icons in Rioja for more than 150 years and, in my mind, will continue to be for generations to come.


Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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