Get to Know Marqués de Riscal of Rioja

Marqués de Riscal Riserva 2007

Marqués de Riscal Riserva 2007

Marqués de Riscal – three words you may recognize as synonymous with reds from Rioja. Or if not the name, perhaps you’ve seen the traditional gold netting that adorns each bottle.  Either way, this name and these wines have been an instrumental part of the Rioja wine industry for over a century – in fact, this year they are celebrating their 150th anniversary!

Founded in 1858 by the Marqués, their first vintage was made in 1862 – and there is a bottle or two of this inaugural wine still in their cellar today!  In the early 20th century, there were not many wineries in Rioja and there was a lot of fraud, so Marqués de Riscal decided to use the gold netting with a wax seal as a guarantee of authenticity and it has since become the brand’s calling card.

I recently attended a lunch at the fabulous Aqua restaurant, which has two separate dining areas, one Japanese, the other Spanish – naturally we were on the Spanish side!  The guest of honour at lunch was the Commercial Director of Marqués de Riscal, Pedro Aznar.  A tall, dapper gent with Antonio Banderas charisma, Pedro was excited to share his wines with us, a group of bloggers and journos.

Pedro Aznar of Marqués de Riscal

Pedro Aznar of Marqués de Riscal

While the magnums of ’98 and ’99 Gran Reserva breathed, we started with three of their white wines.  The first was the Rueda Blanco, made with 100% Verdejo grapes from the region of Rueda.  Back in the 70s, when Marqués de Riscal were already well known for their Rioja reds, they were lured to Rueda by their intrigue with the Verdejo grape.

Marqués de Riscal Blanco Rueda 2011

Marqués de Riscal Blanco Rueda 2011

At the time, this shift was thought extremely risky by their peers – why not just stay in Rioja and make white wine?  But as Pedro explains it, they didn’t feel they’d be able to make whites of the same high quality as their reds in Rioja so they took the chance and ventured west to Rueda. Considering they’re celebrating their 40th year of making wine there, it was obviously a good move!

2011 was a great vintage in Rueda and this Verdejo is a delicious, mouth-watering wine, well-balanced with a slight bitterness on the finish which is characteristic of the grape.  Pedro was telling us that over the past two years, they’ve begun using indigenous yeasts with this wine to ‘recuperate the true essence of the Verdejo grape’.

The second white was the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, also from Rueda. They were actually the ones to introduce Sauvignon Blanc to area in 1975. They decided to plant Sauvignon Blanc (long before they had any idea how popular it would be in the new century!) after experimenting with many different white grapes including Chardonnay, Albariño, Riesling and Trajadura and the Sauvignon Blanc produced superlative wines proving it was the variety best suited the climate and soil of Rueda.

The third white of the lunch was my favourite – the Finca Montico.  The Verdejo vines that produce the grapes for this wine were planted in the Montico vineyard in 1988. The wine is easy to find on a shop shelf from it’s unusually modern ‘Google Earth’ label representing the design of vineyards as seen from the sky.

Finca Montico Verdejo

Finca Montico Verdejo

This is a food wine.  It’s got wonderful complexity that comes from 4-6 months aging on the lees with not an ounce of oak.  It’s beautifully aromatic with notes of pear, fresh herbs and a lemony orange citrus twang.  I mentioned it’s a food wine and of all three whites, this one was the ideal pairing with the starter of delicious razor clams.

Razor clams

Razor clams

Then we moved to the reds. If you’re like me, you always a enjoy a good Rioja, so I was really looking forward to tasting the current releases, but also to being treated to the older vintage Gran Reservas.

As we tasted the Reserva (2007) (pictured above), Pedro explained that this wine, their icon, is the hardest to make.  It’s the one best known by their fans and therefore the consistency and quality must be unsurpassed with every vintage.  There are four winemakers charged with the responsibility of determining the final blend of each of the wines (the head winemaker is in fact, a descendent of the original Marqués de Riscal!) and they spend two days tasting and rating the wines from the different barrels to determine which wine each of them is destined to become.

The wines of Marqués de Riscal

The wines of Marqués de Riscal

I asked Pedro about the fact that oftentimes people think of Rioja as one certain style and expect all wines to fit that mold, but in fact Rioja is not a style of wine, it’s a region with many varying micro-climates and many different expressions of the region. He concurred saying that more and more, he and his fellow winemakers, are producing wines that speak to the discrete intricacies offered by the soil, climate and aspect of their specific spot in Rioja, which as Pedro said is ‘maravilloso’!

Our menu had two options for a main course – seared duck breast or confit salmon with squid ink sauce, I chose the salmon, and can say that the these beautiful reds did not overwhelm the fish at all, but somewhat surprisingly, matched quite well!

Confit salmon with squid ink sauce

Confit salmon with squid ink sauce

However, the best food & wine match was yet to come. As we moved on to the cheese course – an incredible array of six Spanish cheeses – we were to discover how well these wines match to such a diverse array of cheese, from soft and gooey to blue and stinky and the verdict was excellent! As Pedro said these wines with cheese “are the best marriage”.

Cheese & wine!

Cheese & wine!

As we adjourned to the balcony to enjoy the views of London, I asked Pedro to sum up what encapsulates the Marqués de Riscal wines, and he told me that their focus and purpose is centered around tradition and history combined with modernity and innovation.  All of which were evident in our glasses this afternoon.

Pedro Aznar and me

Pedro Aznar and me

If you’re planning a trip to Rioja, then you must pay a visit to Marqués de Riscal to experience their ‘City of Wine’.  In 2006 they opened a 43 room luxury hotel, designed by world-renowned architect Frank O. Gehry. The restaurant at the hotel was awarded a Michelin Star earlier this year.

Many thanks to Pedro Aznar, Ruth Sutton – Marqués de Riscal Sales and Marketing Manager and acting translator, and Ben Smith of Enotria for a fabulous afternoon.

The wines of Marqués de Riscal are available in the UK from Enotria.

Have you tried Marqués de Riscal wines? What do you think?  Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you!

Here’s to trying something new, learning something new and enjoying every glass a whole lot more.

Tara – Wine Passionista

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Leave A Reply (2 comments so far)


  1. Andrew
    5 years ago

    I havent sampled (or drunk) a Riscal wine for an age; certainly interested in that wounderfully packaged Monitco, sounds lovely.


  2. Sylvan Munro
    5 years ago

    Hi,
    I thoroughly agree with what you´ve written. Marques de Riscal is one of the highly valued wines of Spain.
    I live in Spain and love wines. I enjoy a white during the day and a red in the evening though during the hot summer the white wins. The Rueda Blanco with the verdejo grapes is one of my favourites and is easy to find, with many very reasonably priced.
    Saludos from Mallorca, oh yes and keep up the good work, I find your mails really interesting and informative, thanks,
    Sylvan

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