Spain’s Marqués de Murrieta Winery

by artfuldiner on February 23, 2016

in Artful Diner Review, Opinion, Wine

Marques de Murrieta - Castle Winery ExteriorFounded in 1852, by Luciano de Murrieta, who gave up his military career to become a full-time winemaker, Marqués de Murrieta is the oldest family winery based in Rioja, Spain’s leading red wine region.

Something of an innovator, while visiting Bordeaux, Murrieta had seen the importance of aging top red wines in oak barrels and was the first person to utilize this process in Rioja, at a time when most local wines were made and sold in the year of production. He also pioneered wine exports to both Cuba & Mexico and, eventually, to other areas of the world.

In 1872 Murrieta acquired the now famous Ygay estate on the outskirts of Logroño and moved his winemaking facilities to their present site. That same year, he was named Marqués de Murrieta by King Amadeo I, becoming part of the landed gentry at the age of 50.

When the Marqués died in 1911 without direct descendants, the estate was passed on to a second nephew, José Manuel Olivares Bruguera, and another branch of his family. Following World War II, while the estate’s wines were still well respected, Murrieta entered a period of relative decline due to lack of investment.

Fortunes changed, however, when the dynamic Vicente Cebrián-Sagarriga, the Count of Creixell, purchased the estate in 1983. The Count owned a winery in Galicia – Pazo Barrantes in Rías Baixas – and wanted to expand his interests; and the run-down but historic Murrieta seemed the perfect choice. A brilliant marketer, Cebrián-Sagarriga set about to restore Murrieta’s luster by updating cellars, renewing barrels and equipment and, most important of all, planting new vineyards to make the bodega self-sufficient in grapes.

Marques de Murrieta - Vicente Dalmau Cebrian-Sagarriga, President & OwnerDon Vicente died in 1996 at the age of 48, but was succeeded by his equally dedicated and visionary son, Vicente Dalmau Cebrián-Sagarriga, who has, in turn, restored Murrieta to the forefront of Rioja’s producers, culminating in the stone-by-stone restoration of the old castle winery. Having worked at the winery since 1989, Vicente Dalmau assembled a team of innovative young professionals. In 2002, for example, when Murrieta celebrated its 150th anniversary, the average age of the management staff stood at 30 years.

Marques de Murrieta - Maria Vargas,WinemakerMaria Vargas is one of the highest-profile female winemakers in Rioja, and was very much a part of Murrieta’s transformation. She joined the winery as assistant winemaker in 1995, and ascended to the top spot in 2000. Ms. Vargas is acknowledged as a brilliant and sensitive winemaker, extremely adept at combining the different plots of Murrieta’s 300 hectares of vineyards.

Murrieta produces a variety of wines, including several traditional – and not so traditional – white wines and an exciting red called Dalmau. This is a blend of Tempranillo supplemented by Cabernet Sauvignon and Graciano that is fermented and aged in French oak. Very much a modern style Rioja, Dalmau exhibits high alcohol levels, dense, oaky flavors, and tannins that need significant time in the bottle to show their best. The current vintage is 2009.

Marques de Murrieta Castillo YgayMarrieta’s claim to fame, however, is its legendary Reserva, which accounts for 85% of production. And the bodgega’s flagship is the Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial, a Tempranillo blend that is sourced from three different vineyard plots planted in the 1960s. According to British wine critic & award-winning journalist Tim Atkin, sampling old vintages of Murrieta is one of the wine world’s greatest pleasures. The 1985, 1968, and 1959 are legendary Riojas; but according to a slew of wine critics and winemaker María Vargas, the currently available 2005 may prove to be the greatest release ever.

This incomparable vintage was produced from a blend of 89% Tempranilla and 11% Mazuelo (Carinena), a grape that adds considerable acidity and aging potential to the blend. The Tempranilla was aged in American oak barrels and the Mazuelo in French ones, both for a period of 30 months. The wine was then aged in the bottle for an additional two years before being released.

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate bestowed a whopping 96 points (100 point scale) and dubbed it “a classic among classics.” It garnered 95 points and an “Editors’ Choice” from the Wine Enthusiast, which called it “superb at every checkpoint” and a “world-class wine.” The Wine Spectator added 94 points and placed it at number 84 on its “Top 100 Wines of 2014.”

This is a superb wine… powerful but elegant; a wine that is bold and rich on the palate at the present moment and yet has the ability to age gracefully for another two decades. A real gem – if you can find it. It is available online; but only in limited quantities, and it goes for around $80.00. However, as Parker notes, “at this quality level it represents very good value.”

Marques de Murrieta Rioja ReservaDon’t despair, however, as the 2010 Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Reserva is a very close second… and at a fraction of the price. Normally retailing around the $25.00 mark – but I’ve seen it on sale for as low as $23.99 (plus shipping, of course) – the 2010 is a mind-boggling bargain.

We recently had a tasting of four reds in our wine cellar, and the 2010 Reserva simply stole the show. A blend of 93% Tempranillo, 4% Mazuelo, 2% Graciano, and 1% Garnacha, the grapes are fermented separately in stainless steel vats; and then the wine is aged for 21 months in American oak. The color is a dense bright cherry, the nose appealingly bold, and the palate utterly bewitched by its smooth, seductive elegance, silky tannins, subtle, spicy oak, and graceful, alluring finish.

An incredibly irresistible wine at a bargain price. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Catch it while you can.




{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: