Evidence of risk taking at Riscal tasting

One weekend in La Rioja is not anywhere near long enough to enjoy the fruits (and tannins) offered up by this part of northern Spain.  I was, therefore, extremely pleased to see a visit to Marqués de Riscal winery, one of my favourites, on the itinerary of the European Wine Bloggers’ Conference.

Riscal is a traditional old winery yet some experimentation is being dared, such as the inclusion of increasing quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon in this Tempranillo dominated region, and talking of innovation (a noun to which Riscal aspires) it is hard to ignore the stunning architecture of the Frank Gehry building.  Although supposedly representative of the wines of Riscal, I suspect Gehry may have been influenced by something more hallucinatory than wine when he sat at his drawing board at the turn of the millennium.  Very impressive though it is, I spat rather than swallowed, the argument that it “blends in” with the surrounding landscape.  I think its very beauty is that it blends in like a spaceship placed next to the Houses of Parliament.  Come to think of it, when is the London Eye scheduled for take off?

Brave architecture is to be applauded.  Placing the avant-garde next door to ancient structures is something man has always done.  Those that try to protect the idyll should visit any old city where “modern” buildings of only, say, 200 years of age, reside comfortably, albeit in a different architectural style to neighbours of twice their age or more.  London and Edinburgh are classic examples in Europe.

The use of stainless steel tanks in the winemaking process was I am sure, once decried as ruinous, but is now accepted as standard.  Rules still apply to maturation, however, and to put “Rioja” on your label combined with the words “Crianza”, “Reserva” or “Gran Reserva” requires ageing in oak barrels for minimum terms, as if sentences for a minor offence.

Just as strict is the control over grape use and so, the 2003 Barón de Chirel we tasted had the impudence to own up to 15% Cabernet Sauvignon as the Tempranillo bedfellow.  Described by Riscal as a “new era” Rioja it is nonetheless one of the most expensive and, in my opinion worth the extra wonga.  Smooth yet intense mix of plums damsons and coffee.

We also tasted the 2004 Reserva which was just a little too tannic for me yet quite tasty fruit, spice, leather and smoke.  Probably best with food, I’ll try it again at some point.

The 2001 Gran Reserva (150th anniversary) was much smoother.  Spice, leather, toast and cloves with some grapefruit and dark fruit.

The surprise package was delivered in the form of a white wine – Verdejo blended with 15% Viura.  Sometimes snootily maligned, I’ve had some good experiences with these grapes.  The 2007 Rueda tasted to me like a Loire Sauvignon Blanc (and for the avoidance of doubt, I mean that as a compliment).  Peach, pineapple and crisp green apple, refreshing, zingy and delicious.  I have never tried Riscal white wines before but I will start looking out for them.

The most disappointing part of the entire visit was looking at the old wines in the “Cathedral” cellar.  Dating back as far as the winery itself and reportedly 60% still drinking “very well”, I asked if they would open a bottle for me.  I am clearly not as important as Frank Gehry for whom they opened a bottle of 1929 (the year of his birth).  Shame.  I guess I’ll have to save up for the Christie’s Riscal 150th Anniversary Auction on 25th October 2008 where amongst other amazing lots, nestles longingly half a case of Riscal from the year of my birth – 1964.

Marqués de Riscal winery, 1 Calle Torrea, 01340 Elciego, Rioja Alavesa, Spain
T: +34 945 60 60 00
F: +34 945 60 60 23
E: marquesderiscal@marquesderiscal.com
W: www.marquesderiscal.com

6 Responses to “Evidence of risk taking at Riscal tasting”

  1. Peter May Says:

    My mouth is watering — super report 🙂

  2. Alastair Bathgate Says:


    Thanks. You should have tasted the Jamón Ibérico de Pata Negra they served with the wine. Those black footed pigs produce incredibly expensive meat but my god it tastes like heaven.

  3. jonathan cockburn Says:

    Interesting account of your Marques de Riscal trip. When we went there, the summer before last, we were only invited into the main hall where they have a display of a few of their wines. I had to specifically ask for the 2001, which they got me without hesitation, deviation or repetition (well some, as we got a few bottles). This is the standard reserva, though and I’ve got one bottle left. Sadly, we went to Spain as foot passengers by boat and rented a car in Bilboa, so we had to limit what we were prepared to carry back on to the boat and then back to our car left in a Plymouth car park. Nevertheless We bought back 28 bottles of wine including some Muga (we still have 2004) and Marques de Murrieta Reserva (we still have 2002). I don’t know if these are any good or worth drinking yet. Any comments of encouragement could be a useful excuse to sample something Spanish this weekend! I see you seem to occasionally go to London, so let me know when you’re next in town and I could always bring a bottle to share (as I’m a weekly vistor to the metropolis). There must be some place that charges reasonable corkage rates. All best Jonathan Cockburn

  4. Confessions of a Wino » Blog Archive » Marqués de Riscal Reserva 2004 Says:

    […] was fortunate enough to try the 2004 Reserva before release on a visit to the winery in 2008.  Combined with the weight of expectation of this vintage (do brilliant Riojas always come from […]

  5. Confessions of a Wino » Blog Archive » Marqués de Riscal, Rueda 2011 Says:

    […] Malvasia  and Verdejo grapes are a good starting point, especially from a price perspective. I visited Marqués de Riscal in 2008 and was impressed by the quality of the prevailing base white wine, especially scoffed with highest […]

  6. Wineshout | Brix & Mortar: Marques de Riscal Winery Says:

    […] For more on the Marques de Riscal Winery, see this article from Alastair Bathgate. […]

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