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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 some years ago 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 a few years ago 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.   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 met an old cellar man 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 new owners.  
 
Their wines used to be imported by a national liquor company.  When that firm lost interest in selling wine, Murrieta disappeared from the market.  It had been probably 5 years since we've seen a new vintage.

They're back in the market, finally and we bought some bottles of their new vintages.  The 2000 Castillo Ygay is good, but I felt the 2004 "Reserva" was more compelling, as well as being more modestly priced.  Now we're on to the next vintage and it's showing well.

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


 


TELMO RODRIGUEZ WINES

We've known Telmo Rodriguez since he was affiliated with his family's winery in Rioja ages ago.  This was before global warming, for example.

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 different regions.  

I probably should have a closer look at the current offerings, but having tasted a number of wines this past year, I found a number of good wines, but nothing that struck me as a wine that over-performed for its pricing.

Stay tuned and we'll see if there's something of interest...

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


 



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.

We found the 2004 and 2006 Reserva wines to be quite good and now the 2007 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 2007 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:  2007 BERONIA Rioja Reserva $17.99
2008 BERONIA Elaboracion Especial Rioja Tempranillo SALE $15.99
 
 









MARQUÉS DE RISCAL
Still owned, apparently, by the heirs of the founder, Camilo Hurtado de Amzaga, 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!

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 $450-$550 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.  
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


 

 

 
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:  2007 PROTOCOLO  (list $9) SALE $6.49

EL COTO DE RIOJA

This winery was founded in 1970 and it was run by a bank for many years.  A fellow who headed the firm for the bank, eventually began his own winery and today El Coto is still aligned with the Baron de Ley brand.

At one point this brand was owned by Bass, a beer company which ended up investing in hotels.  In fact, they sold the winery to come up with the money to buy the Holiday Inn chain.  Well, all through the various ownership changes, most of the same management has been running the place.

We gather they're owned by an investment group which owns vineyards, wineries and a company producing ham.

From time to time we've found a wine of interest and recently their 2004 Reserva caught our attention and for two good reasons:  It's a high quality bottling and the price is right.

The 2004 vintage is one where if you didn't make a good wine in Rioja, perhaps you might consider looking for other lines of work.  The Coto de Imaz rises to the quality of the vintage...too bad this brand isn't a bit more reliable in the less-than-perfect years.

The wine is entirely Tempranillo and the fruit comes from the Rioja Alta region.  They matured this for 16 months in small American oak and then bottled it.  Another three years' aging in bottle took place before they put it on the market.  The official wine-speak term for that momentous occasion is "released."

We like the nice dark fruit aromas of the Tempranillo.  And there's a lovely woodsy character from the oak, as it shows notes of dill and cedar.  It's medium-bodied and smooth enough to enjoy tonight, if you like.  

Currently in stock:  2004 COTO DE IMAZ Rioja Reserva SALE Sold Out

 

 

 

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.

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.  And the 2004 can be set aside for several more years, if you like, but it's exceptional right now.

Currently in stock:  BODEGAS RIOJANAS 2004 Viña Albina Sold Out

 


 

 

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