Marqués de Riscal: Famous Vineyards And Wineries of the World
So, Exactly what does one have to do to become a household name as a winery?
In this series, we will be taking a look at some of the world’s finest and most recognisable wineries from all over the globe, and learning about their history, the vineyards that bear their fruit and what it is that makes them so special.
First of all, what exactly does it take to make great wine?
For those of you who read our first installment in this series on the prestigious Robert Mondavi winery you will remember that there are many steps and things that go into making a great wine. For those of you who didn’t check it out here or read on and we will run through it again.
Every winery has a head Winemaker, this is the person who oversees every single aspect that goes into making that bottle of wine you grab to go with your Sunday dinner. (Or Monday, Or Tuesday….. You know, Any day that ends with d-a-y!!)
This Winemaker has the massive responsibility of monitoring the grapes at every step of their growth journey, from planting to harvesting and tasting in between to evaluate their ripening progression.
The making of a great wine starts far before the winemaker gets involved. It all starts with the Vineyard itself – a combination of several elements make up what makes each vineyard unique and gives its wine that “Je Ne Sais Quoi.”
The vineyard truly is the canvas on which winemakers will create their masterpieces.
The location, the soil in which the grapes are grown, and the methods used have a profound effect on what we taste in the wine, and this is what distinguishes one region’s wine from another – Chardonnay is a prime example.
Chardonnay is a favorite of many winemakers as it is very easy to grow and it is the perfect grape to showcase the nuances of the place in which it is grown – this is the quality known as Terroir among wine lovers and makers alike.
Each wine making region of the world has a unique Terroir – a french term meaning ‘Sense of Place. Terroir is what distinguishes a Chardonnay made in California – a warm climate meaning the wine will have tropical notes such as pineapple and mango, From one made in its birthplace of Burgundy – a cooler climate which will mirror the grapes acidity with stone fruit flavors such as apricot or peach. This ‘sense of place’ is what makes up the uniqueness and subtle nuances of a wine, by affecting its aromas and flavors.
What Vineyard/Winery will we look at in this Article?
In this article, we will travel to Spain to learn about one of the most visually stunning wineries and second-best vineyard in the world, Marques De Riscal.
Located primarily in the prestigious wine region of Rioja, their continuous growth and pioneering evolution over the years has put them in a few different regions across the country.
The Marqués de Riscal estate covers around 540 hectares of vineyards that they own, and they control another 900 hectares, they produce upwards of 6 million bottles annually and is one of the most recognizable and plentiful Spanish wines found abroad. Their wine is exported to over 100 countries!
About the Area and the Terroir
Rioja (pronounced “Ree-Oh-Haa”) is located an hour south of Bilbao in North central Spain. It is the country’s second smallest region, but that has not stopped it from becoming Spain’s premier wine area. There are over 500 wineries scattered throughout its 54,000 hectares, some of which have been making wine for centuries!
In recent years there have also been an influx of modern bodegas who are taking new and contemporary approaches to wine making, all while boosting the already prestigious wine regions profile to new levels.
The climate in this region is somewhat diverse. It is mainly continental, meaning there is a significant variance in temperatures throughout the year with little precipitation and relatively low humidity. There are some influences of both the Atlantic climate in the north west of the region and the Mediterranean in the most eastern parts of the region.
Perhaps one of the largest influences on the ability of grapes in this region to ripen so beautifully are The Cantabrian Mountain range. They supply the vines with shelter from those frosty Atlantic winds and of course the Atlantic Ocean.
All of this means Rioja’s climate is truly perfect for wine production – little rain, toasty warmth from the beaming sunshine during the day and a distinct dip in temperature at night (which is excellent for the health of the grape’s!).
The Rioja region is divided into 3 subdivisions (or Appellations) – Rioja Oriental, Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa, each one with a different soil type. Marques de Riscal’s grapes mostly come from the Rioja Alavesa sub region. This region is north of the River Ebro,meaning the soil is free-draining and chalky, while also being rich in limestone.
This area of Rioja Alavesa is acknowledged as a prime area for producing wines with the potential to age beautifully, thanks to the elevated acidity and beautifully structured tannins.
This along with the altitude of the vineyards give the wine Marques De Riscal produces that classic brightness and aromatic’s that are uniquely Riojan.
History of Marques De Riscal
To say this winery has a rich history is an understatement. Marques de Riscal has been an innovator in the wine industry for over 160 years.
In 1858, Guillermo Hurtado de Amézaga, inherited several vines and wineries from his sister. He then proceeded to found his soon to be world renowned winery Marques de Riscal, and this winery has gone from strength to strength over the years.
Guillermo had previously spent years in Bordeaux around the time of the Carlist wars in Spain, and here he observed how they made their wines. He was not only inspired by their wine making, but the architecture. He collaborated with a Lograno Architect to design the property in the style of the estates he had seen in Bordeaux. The vision was to make the winery reminiscent of A French Chateau, and they certainly achieved this.
He also brought in a wine maker from Château Lanessan, Jean Pineau, to oversee winemaking.
Continuing to take inspiration from the Bordeaux region, Guillermo insisted on selling his wines in bottle’s. This was unique as it was the first winery in Rioja to sell in bottles rather than in barrels. He was truly a pioneer of his time as the first person to bring the viticulture from the most famous red wine district in the world, Medoc to Rioja.
He brought over around 9,000 young Cabernet Sauvignon as well as importing Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Pieponille and Semillon to Rioja. He even distributed them to other producers in the Rioja Alavesa. It is believed around a quarter of the vineyard was planted with French grapes during the early stages of vine growing, but of course their flagship grape was true to the region and was Tempranillo.
Soon the prizes and recognition started to roll in. In 1895 Marqués de Riscal made history as the first winery outside of France to win Diplome d’Honneur at the distinguished Bordeaux Exhibition.This win made the world sit up and take notice of the winery, and the diploma was put on all all of the labels for their wines, it is even still there today!
At the beginning of the 20th century with hordes of attention on the now esteemed winery they were worried about forgeries. The winery started to adorn their bottles with a Golden mesh to avoid this, these are still used on the bottles today. Not only did it do its job of deterring thieves and imitators, It also makes the wine instantly recognizable and eye-catching in stores where there is a plethora to choose from.
The Winery Today
Marques De Riscal has continually elevated itself and its products over the years. They now have many vineyards across 4 regions of the country, but their roots will always be firmly in the Rioja region where the winery was born.
Today they have even created “The Marqués de Riscal City of Wine” located in Elciego. Here you can delve right into the rich history since its inception in 1858 right to the modern day. You can wander around the beautiful Plaza del Reloj (Square of the Sun Dial)where you can observe their original Bodega that still houses many of the gems of Marques De Riscal, including the spectacular Ancient Bottle Cellar.
You can even stay over in the Hotel Marqués de Riscal, a Luxury Collection Hotel, created by the celebrated architect, Frank O. Gehry (the man responsible for the stunning Bilbao Guggenhaim museum!). The hotel is truly a spectacle, its avant garde design contrasts the traditional sandstone buildings from 1858 exquisitely.
One of the most unique experiences in the “City Of Wine” is the full sensory experience you can take part in the Caudalie vinotherapy spa, where you will enjoy the grapes grown in a different way than you normally do at a winery – they will be used in Facial and Body treatments!
After a day of exploring all this “city” has to offer you can go and grab a bite at their now Michelin Starred restaurant, and pair your delicious meal with a glass of what started this city – Their renowned vino!
Their Flagship Wine
Marques De Riscal flagship wine has to be their stunning limited production Baron de Chirel. This wine is a true modern classic which exquisitely illustrates every aspect of Rioja – especially the tradition and distinctive identity of the region. The first vintage of Baron de Chirel was crafted in 1986, and it is a great demonstration of the influence the Bordeaux style of wine making had on Marques De Riscal.
Excellent quality grapes from 80 – 100 year old vines were chosen, and according to Marques De Riscal “This wine was only made in the best vintages when the vines express the full character of the terroir; the “New Era of Rioja” had just begun.”
This wine is aged in French Oak, and is composed of 80 percent Tempranillo and 20 percent other varieties.
This wine is elegance personified – With an intense dark cherry color, it is full of complexity.
The aroma is powerful and rich, a fresh yet somewhat creamy palette, Soft and delicate tannins and a lengthy but balanced finish.
This is a special wine that is perfect as a gift, to others or yourself!
It pairs beautifully with so many dishes, in particular red meats and game, as well as cured cheeses. If you see a bottle of Baron De Chirel on the shelves at a store near you, don’t hesitate, grab it, You will not be sorry!