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The Lay of the land...Backgrounder on Spain's Wine Regions



MARQUÉS DE MURRIETA
wpeB.jpg (12123 bytes)This old, amazing property came up for sale in the 1980s and it was purchased by Vicente Cebrián-Sagarriga, who ended up selling his holdings in radio stations to be able to buy this historic winery.  Cebrián-Sagarriga died in the mid-1990s and the winery is run by his son, Vicente Jr.  

Located just on the outskirts of Logroño, the have something like 300 hectares of vineyards which supply all their needs.   These are in the Rioja Alta region, but in the more easterly portion of that area.  As a result, the wines are perhaps a tad bigger than many of those which come from sites closer to Haro to the west.

They grow Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo, Graciano and Cabernet Sauvignon for their reds and Viura for their white wine.

The cellar is full of barrels, some 13,000 of them.  The winery has produced wines under an old label called "Castillo Ygay," which are "Gran Reserva" quality.  

We had met an old cellar man back in the mid-1990s who was skeptical of the new owner's commitment to continue producing grand and glorious wines.  He seemed to be won over, however, after a few years under the Cebrián ownership.
 
Their wines used to be imported by a national liquor company.  When that firm lost interest in selling wine, Murrieta disappeared from the market.   We missed about 5 vintages of wines as Murrieta was out of the US market...We'd send them a note periodically, encouraging them to select an importer and come back.  But this process took some time and now they seem to be well-situated and imported  by a stable company.
 
The Cebrián family has been making some major investments in the winery.  They've spent $40 million to replant some vineyard and restore the cellars.  The place is a national landmark and an historic treasure.
 

There's a nice show-place that's been renovated.


This old truck is a bit of an icon for the winery...
 
If you go visit, they have a nice little tasting facility.  You can buy tastes of the various wines made by Murrieta, as well as their lovely white wine from Galicia.





The 2007 vintage is very good.  The blend is 84% Tempranillo, 13% Garnacha and 3% Mazuelo.  It was matured in new and seasoned American oak barrels.  The wood is noticeable, but it doesn't dominate the wine.    It's about as good a $25 bottle as you'll find these days.

We also have a remarkable 1978 Gran Reserva Especial under the Castillo Ygay label.

Only ten vintages have been bottled (so far) from the 20th Century, the 1978 being the most recent offering.  The blend is 75% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, 12% Mazuelo and 3% Graciano. This was matured for 216 MONTHS(!) in in American oak barrels. Yes...18 years in wood.  

We brought a bottle of this to share with wine drinking friends in Milano and it was the wine of the night.  Totally amazing.  We recently shared the bottle pictured above with a friend at a Spanish dinner in San Francisco.  The wine was older than our waiter and he was delighted to taste such a remarkably complex wine.

We set up the wine with a dry Cava (sparkling wine) and a fruity, non-wooded red from Spain's Priorat.  The contrast between those and the 1978 Castillo Ygay is remarkable.  Despite all the time in wood, the wine still retains an amazing level of fruit.  Of course, there's a woodsy aspect to the bouquet...nicely acidic, too.  Suffice it to say this is a rare treat.

The 2001 Ygay Gran Reserva is exceptional.
It's 93% Tempranillo and 7% Mazuelo, if you're trying to impress your friends and show off your incredible wine knowledge.
The wine spent 31 months in small American oak barrels and it displays the woodsiness we love in traditionally-styled Rioja.  It's one of the few $50 bottles one can buy which is actually well worth the price.

Currently available:  Marqués de Murrieta 2007 Rioja Reserva $24.99
1978 Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial  Sale $219.99
2001 CASTILLO YGAY Gran Reserva $54.99
 

PAZO BARRANTES

This is a little white wine project of the Cebrián-Sagarriga family which owns Castillo Ygay and the Marques de Murrieta brands (just posted above).

They have about 12 hectares of vineyards in the area of Ribadumia, a small town that's 6 hours northwest of Madrid and about an hour south of Santiago de Compostela.  If you look on Wikipedia, you'll see nothing has happened in Ribadumia since the year 1151 and even then, what someone tried to do, did not happen.

What has happened, though, lucky for us, is many growers have planted vineyards.  Albariño.  
It grows well in this western Spain locale.  Doesn't do badly a bit south in northern Portugal, either.

And now the Albariño grape has traveled around the planet, producing wine in South America as well as here in California.

But the benchmark versions are from Spain's Galicia region.  We've followed the wine from the Pazo Barrantes winery for a number of years.  And this is the first vintage (2012) we've brought in to the store.  It's a marvelously floral Albariño, as they've captured a sort of white flower quality in the wine along with the vaguely spicy element we often encounter.

Pazo Barrantes is dry and there's a faintly citrusy tone in the center which we like (but not along the lines of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc)...No oak.  Nice as a cocktail white and this pairs well with seafood.  And I seem to recall the wine was more expensive some years ago...now we regard this as a good value.

 

Currently in stock:  2012 PAZO BARRANTES ALBARIÑO  $18.99

 

 


The new cellar of Telmo Rodriguez in Rioja...

 
TELMO RODRIGUEZ WINES

We've known Telmo Rodriguez since he was affiliated with his family's winery in Rioja ages ago.  Our first vintages were during the Jimmy Carter administration and we later visited him during the early years of the Clinton (Bill) administration.

Telmo motors throughout Spain and has wines all around the countryside.

He's a brilliant winemaker and quite passionate about wine quality.  

His wines have become a bit pricey over the years and you might not recognize them as typical Spanish wines.

Rodriguez eschews the Riojana system for classifying wines based principally upon how long the wines are aged in wood.  Telmo studied winemaking in Bordeaux and so perhaps his perspective on Spanish wine is different from most vintners.  And some wine drinkers, too, for that matter.

His portfolio of wines these days is vast and he makes wines in about eight or nine different regions.   With 40 hectares in Rioja and bits and pieces in other parts of Spain, the company is presently making about a million bottles of wine annually.

All their vineyards are biodynamically farmed and virtually all are 'head pruned' (or bush vines, if you prefer).  New vineyards are planted from massal selections rather than getting particular clones from a nursery.  

 

Here's a snapshot showing the top soil and its sub-strata in Rioja near the winery.

You can see the more chalky, limestone well below...

They're located off the beaten path and there are no signs indicating there's a winery, as Telmo keeps a low profile.

Here's a snapshot of the fermentation cellar.


A view of those tanks from below...

There's a cellar with some oak cooperage...


Presently we have none of their wines in the shop...we hope to bring in a couple of wines shortly.

 

In the meantime, we can always special order Telmo's wines.  


 



BERONIA
Beronia is a winery founded in the 1970s and sold to a large Sherry company, Gonzalez Byass, makers of Tio Pepe and some fantastically good Sherries...

The original plan was to produce Reserva and Gran Reserva wines.  Under Gonzalez Byass' ownership, though, the Beronia brand makes the entire range of Rioja wines.
 

The fermentation cellar is fairly standard, although at the far end, you'll notice some small oak barrels.

And you'll notice these are stained not only on the staves, but the barrel heads are covered with wine splatterings, too.
Beronia has been making a special bottling of Tempranillo which is actually fermented in these barrels, making for a messy time during the fermentation.
They have a beautiful cellar full of barricas, too!
At the far end of this cellar, there's a gate with some older vintages being bottled aged.

 

 
 

We found the 2004, 2006 and 2007 Reserva wines to be quite good and now the 2008 has arrived and it continues their small string of good wines.

The wine is matured in a curious barrel.  The staves are made of the typical American oak used in many cellars in Spain.  But the barrel 'heads' are actually French wood!  

We like the woodsy aspect of the 2008 Reserva.  It shows nice fruit and the oak we like in typical Rioja reds.  It's 90% Tempranillo, 5% Graciano and 5% Mazuelo.  It really is showy if you set it up with a glass of Cava or a non-oaked white...
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The 2008 Elaboracion Especial is a Tempranillo that's given a cold-soak on the skins prior to the fermentation and then the must (skins and juice) go into barrel...it's fermented in oak and undergoes its secondary, malolactic fermentation in wood.  (Labor intensive!)

The resulting wine has nice dark fruit aromas and there's a good bit of American oak.  It's a delicious wine and offered at a special sale price to Weimax 'regulars'...so stop on by!

 


Currently in stock:  2008 BERONIA Rioja Reserva $19.99
2008 BERONIA Elaboracion Especial Rioja Tempranillo Sold Out
 
 




 

CONDE DE HERVIAS


The fellow on the left is Íñigo Manso de Zúñiga Ugartechea, the "count" (or Conde in Spanish) of Hervias in the town of Torremontalbo in Spain's Rioja region.  By the way, I've seen the town signs also read "Torremontalvo," so I wish they'd make up their mind and pick a spelling.

He owns some parcels of vines which were planted BEFORE the phylloxera root louse devastated vineyards in Spain.  These are seriously old vines and those vines were responsible, we understand, for helping the Rioja region replant its vineyards.

Torremontalbo, however, has some very sandy soils and phylloxera cannot deal with that kind of "terroir."

It's a town located close to the river and we understand there's been a small population explosion...the town had all of 12 residents and as of a year or two ago, this jumped all the way to 15 as of 2013!

The fruit from these vineyards had been sold to Campo Viejo and Muga until an enterprising importer convinced Íñigo to start making his own wine.

Having been schooled in France, Íñigo has a sense of balance in making his wines, but his Conde de Hervias bottling is a full-throttle, pedal-to-the-metal Rioja which strikes me as leaning towards the traditional side of the spectrum, while displaying a lot of intense black fruit notes.  I find it to be a very showy wine and, surprisingly, it's not his most expensive, top-of-the-line red wine!

The higher-tier bottling is more elegant, perhaps, but the 2009 Torre del Conde de Hervias Rioja is more expressive and flashy.  It has a fair contribution from its oak aging, so you'll find notes of cedar, cinnamon, vanillin and maybe a hint of a clove spice.  I'd say it quite drinkable now, especially with grilled red meats.  It may age nicely, too, but given how showy it is presently, being able to resist such a charmer is unlikely.

Currently in stock:  2009 TORRE DE CONDE DE HERVIAS  $44.99






MARQUÉS DE RISCAL
Still owned by the heirs of the founder, Camilo Hurtado de Amézaga, this old-time property experienced a period of decline during the mid-1970s until the mid-1980s.  We'd been disappointed for many years.  I suppose the stinging criticism of their wines caused some soul searching and investment in the cellar, when they purchased a slew of new cooperage.  We had a wonderful visit to the cellar in 1995, tasting their Sauvignon Blanc from nearby Rueda, along with a lovely red Reserva. Not to mention an ancient, well-stored vintage from the 1950s!
 
 
Camilo had been living in Bordeaux in the 1830s and by 1850-something came back to Rioja to employ French winemaking methods using Spanish grapes.  He was the first to use small oak barrels and his wines became quite popular, even with Spanish royalty.  Marques de Riscal, to prevent others from counterfeiting his wines, then began a long tradition of wrapping the bottles in wine mesh to guarantee the bottle had not been tampered with!

Riscal still uses a wire mesh wrapping for its bottles.
 

That golden wire is used to wrap bottles of Riscal wines, years ago it being a guarantee and these days almost a signature.

It was intended as a guarantee that the wine was authentic and bottled at Riscal.  It seems, decades ago, there was a chance of counterfeits.
And look where we are today with some wines!  Some wineries have special ink, special label paper or even a security hologram on the bottles as a means of authenticating the wine.
 


Over the past decade they've built a fancy hotel and restaurant facility on the property.  It's one of those 'luxury' hotels where a low-end room will set you back about $500-$750 a night!
 
 
  
Riscal has launched a special, old-vines cuvee called Baron de Chirel.   As the original vineyards were planted with some Cabernet Sauvignon, Riscal is allowed to incorporate Cabernet into its wines and still label them as "Rioja."   This is not the case for wineries wishing to plant Cabernet today.  This situation will probably change in the coming years.  In any case, Baron de Chirel is now produced in relatively small quantities...they used to make well more than a 100,000 bottles.  Now they're making between 12,000 and 20,000 bottles of Chirel.

And the owners purchased another Rioja winery called Marques de Arienzo from Pernod Ricard.  Along with the winery, they acquired something like 300 more hectares of land (not all of it planted with vines, though).  As of these days, then, Riscal has about 500 hectares of vineyards of their own and nearly double that in vineyards which are rented/leased or controlled.

We visited in 2014 and it was clear they've been renovating numerous cellars and buildings on the property.

 


They have a wonderful fermentation cellar for their top cuvees.
And those special wines are matured in a particular cellar...

 


Another one of their barrel cellars...




After a barrel has been "racked" (emptied), the cellar worker tosses it to his colleagues who guide it to land on that old truck tire (so it doesn't break).


And then another fellow rolls the barrel to another part of the cellar to be cleaned and sanitized.






We taste each and every vintage of their 'regular' bottling and these are usually nice, but we don't stock them presently...no problem to order them for you, though.

The 2001 Gran Reserva, on the other hand, was a magnificent bottle.  The wine is 85% Tempranillo (from vines older than 30 years), 10% Graciano and 5% "other."  It's been matured in American oak barrels for 2-and-a-half years, or so, before being bottle-aged prior to its release.

The color is medium-dark ruby and it offers a lovely bouquet of sweet, woodsy oak.  On the palate the wine is fairly full without being heavy.  The tannins are balanced with the fruit, so it's fairly supple, especially with food.  The 2001 seems a bit more forward than the 1999 was at a similar stage.   It's showing well now and I don't think it's going to blossom further, so you might as well enjoy it now.  We suspect it will hold nicely for another 5 years, or so.

 

Currently available: 2001 RISCAL Rioja Gran Reserva  SALE $59.99
We can easily order their Rueda Blanco or their Tinto Reserva for you...



 

 

 
PROTOCOLO
The Eguren family has several wineries around Spain, making quite a range of wines.  

If you want stupidly-priced, highly-scoring wines, they make some.  All the wine geeks have their credit cards ready to pay several hundred dollars for a bottle of the latest, inky, lavishly-oaked wine because it 'scored' well in a beauty contest.

On the other hand, if you're looking for a bottle of wine to drink, the new vintage of Protocolo is rather nice.  It's a Tempranillo without a forest full of oak.  It's not inky dark in color and it doesn't have ten years' worth of tannin.

We have this sale-priced and even with the weak dollar, it's a remarkably good value.
 
Currently in stock:  2011 PROTOCOLO  (list $9) SALE $6.49

 

EL COTO DE RIOJA

In the Napa Valley we have Stag's Leap...In Rioja they have El Coto, another brand with a stag or deer as its logo.  The winery was founded by a group of friends who were wine aficionados and the enterprise was backed by an industrial bank.  And five years later, in 1975, the first fruit of their labor came to market.  

A few years later, a fellow from the bank was appointed manager of the winery and today Eduardo Santos Ruiz is still at the helm of El Coto.  But the boulevard from the 1970s until today had been a winding road.  The bank sold the business to the Bass brewing group with Santos Ruiz still calling the shots.  Things went so well, they allowed him to set up his own winery a few kilometers away and this is called "Baron de Ley" and that brand has a somewhat different philosophy towards winemaking.

In 1990 the Bass folks thought they'd be happier making money in the hotel business, so they put the winery up for sale and bought the Holiday Inn chain with the proceeds.  And who bought the place?  Eduardo Santos Ruiz!  He got the backing of a private equity fund to finance the purchase and so today El Coto and Baron de Ley are sister companies.  When the financiers wanted to divest themselves of the wine business, the winery became publicly-traded and it's listed on the Bolsa de Madrid.  And they're doing very well, gracias!
 
 
 
 
 

Here's their stock value over a time period coinciding with the 
production of a bottle of Rioja Gran Reserva (5 years).
 

The winery continues to meet with great commercial success in its home market and they've had the idea of re-investing the profits back into the vineyards and the cellar, rather than pay stockholders a dividend.  
They own more than 1100 hectares of vineyards and this is not sufficient, so they have contracts with growers around Rioja, buying fruit from non-estate vineyards.  ((They maintain close ties to these farmers, directing the viticultural practices and rewarding growers for high quality grapes.))

In strolling around the El Coto grounds, you won't find museum-like show-places.  The design of the place seems to be geared to utilitarian cellars.


As you can see...a fairly normal fermentation and holding tank cellar...


And they have the tanks hooked up to a computer so the enologists can monitor and regulate fermentation temperature, pump-overs, etc.
The fellow showing me around is Iñigo Echavarri, longtime Rioja resident and wine aficionado.


They have more than 70,000 barrels and El Coto replaces them frequently, so their red wines tend to show a nicely woodsy character from aging in these 'barricas.'


And, yes, they have millions of bottles of wines "aging" in their bottle cellars.




The one "little" extravagance they've permitted themselves is this lovely hospitality center for wine tasting and events.


.  

The entry level wines are perfectly fine 'little wines' and well-made, but if you step up to the Reserva level, you get a much more serious bottle of wine.

We've had several vintages of the Reserva "making the cut" here at the shop.  We currently have the 2008 in stock, a wine made entirely of Tempranillo.  The fruit comes predominantly from vineyards in the area of Cenicero (Rioja Alta) and we like the dill and coconut notes from the oak.  It's a medium-bodied red with a supple texture since it's not especially tannic thanks to its aging in oak and then in bottle.

They have a new direction for their Coto Real wine and the 2010 I tasted was off the charts!  It was a really impressive bottle of wine with dark fruit and great depth.  I wonder if this wine will make its way to California???

Stay tuned.

Currently in stock:  2008 COTO DE IMAZ Rioja Reserva SALE $23.99

 

 

 

 

BODEGAS RIOJANAS

This winery was founded in 1890 and it has long been a traditional Rioja producer, making wines of classic style and they've not changed to meet the demands of today's wine critics.

We had not seen their wines in a number of years and were curious to see how they tasted today when a sales rep brought in a bottle to taste.

It was/is their 2004 Viña Albina Reserva.  

Oh my!  It was like meeting a dear old friend you've not seen for a number of years!!

Yes, it's the same style we remember, with medium ruby color, not inky black as is so fashionable today.  The fragrances were striking:  woodsy notes with hints of dill, lumber-yard fragrances from the extended aging in American oak, notes of red fruits...

On the palate the wine is medium-bodied, not heavy.  It's dry, not sweet and it's nicely acidic, not flabby and flat as are so many of today's high-scoring New World bottlings.

The winery, though, is proud of their technological advances and they point out that simply because they make traditional wine does not mean they don't employ modern technology.  Yes, apparently they have electricity and indoor plumbing at the winery.
 
 
 
 

They have some old vintages stashed in their "library."



Like our other favorite Rioja wineries, La Rioja Alta, Lopez Heredia and CUNE, this vintner makes wines for the table.  You may not find these to be the belle of the ball in a blind tasting, but paired with some good friends and good food, this is a delightful bottle of wine.  The wines of this vintner may be a shade 'rustic,' as well.  Not every vintage hits the mark for us.

We currently have their 2001 Monte Real which is 80% Tempranillo, 15% Mazuelo and 5% Graciano.  It's aged for two to two-and-a-half years in American oak, though we find the wood to be a bit less pronounced than similar wines from other Rioja producers.  It's a medium-bodied red, fairly supple and nicely ready to drink.

Currently in stock:  BODEGAS RIOJANAS 2004 Viña Albina Sold Out
BODEGAS RIOJANAS 2001 "MONTE REAL" Sale $39.99

 


 

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