Live from Spain! It’s Saturday Night

Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Bilbao

Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao

Two glorious days to kick off our 2015 tour to Rioja, the epicenter of wine culture in Spain. Our opening day featured a tour of the modernist Guggenheim Museum where we saw two exhibits: the sculptor Richard Serra and the prodigy painter Jean Michel Basquiat who teamed with Andy Warhol for a while.

Our opening welcome dinner was within walking distance of the Guggenheim with a 7 course Basque themed menu: gazpacho; ensalada de bacalao, ajoblanco and pil-pil sauce; kokotxas in green mushroom sauce; fresh pasta, egg cream truffle sauce; red tuna; roasted baby suckling pig; Idiazabal cheese ice cream; lemon pie Baita style, with a choice of verdejo, txakolino or rioja crianza.

Today our driver picked us up on time and less than 2 hours later we were at Marques de Murrieta for a fabulous visit. Murrieta is the largest single estate in Rioja and is still family-owned. It’s also the oldest, dating from 1852. The original owner, Marques de Murrieta, is considered the father of the modern Rioja wine culture. He spent time in Bordeaux and when he returned instituted some major changes to the way wine was made in Rioja, such as the use of barrels and destemming.

Murrieta only makes a reserva and a gran reserva which surpass the minimum requirements: their reserva is aged at least 5 years instead of 3, and the gran reserva 8 years instead of 5. The basic Murrieta is their bread and butter,but their pride and joy are the single vineyard estates. We tasted 2 whites: the Pazo de Barrantes, an albariño produced by the owners at their estate in Galicia. It had the body and feel IMG_6008of a chardonnay and at 14 euros has to be one of the best values  of its class. The other white was Capellanía 2010, made from 100% viura and aged 17 months in new French oak. This is one serious white wine and because of its aggressiveness, either you love it or hate it. I loved it.

We tasted 3 reds: the basic Murrieta at 18 euros is also a great find. A blend of  4 grapes: tempranillo (93%) and the balance mazuelo, graciano and garnacha, it’s a great benchmark for a rioja profile.We also tasted the Dalmau 2011, priced at 50 euros. It’s a single vineyard wine from vines that average 80 years. It’s made from tempranillo (79%)  with 15% cabernet and the rest graciano. Murrieta is the only winery allowed to use cabernet since the Marques introduced it when he returned from France, well before the current DOC laws were established. This is a serious, brooding red which needs time to open and be apprciated. It is only produced in exceptional years, averaging once every 3 years.

My favorite was the gran reserve 2007 made from tempranillo (83%), red garnacha (10) and the rest mazuelo and graciano.  It’s steps up from their basic rioja and this is one of the wines I am bringing home for my future limited tasting in New Haven.

Our lunch visit was at a newcomer on the rioja wine scene: Heras Cordon made its first wine in 2001 and when the new building is completed, will have a capacity to produce one and one half million bottles. Our lunch was on the raucous side since we were sandwiched between 2 Spanish groups who evidently took advantage of the free-flowing wine. Heras Cordon only produces 2 reds: a rioja crianza and a reserva which Parker gave a 92. I liked the wines but reserve judgement on whether it deserves 92.

Anyway everyone checked in to our hotel in the heart of Logroño and although some went out, most I think will chill out in their rooms in expectation of another great day tomorrow.

You can read all about our Rioja wine tour in the links below:

Author Vin Marottoli

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