An exploration of wine

Marqués de Riscal: Gehry hotel outshining solid Rioja and Rueda

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Marqués de Riscal Gehry hotel sunset

Marqués de Riscal’s luxury hotel with the setting Sun

Marqués de Riscal is a long-established, prominent bodega in the Rioja Alavesa village of Elciego, 20 minutes’ drive West of Logroño. At 5m bottles of Rioja a year, they are definitively a large producer. Given its longevity, it is no surprise that it makes classically-styled Rioja wines from Crianza to Gran Reserva, like this 1995, with American oak maturation.

But like several of its peers, such as La Rioja Alta with Torre de Oña or Ramón Bilbao with Mirto, it has embraced modernity through the creation of the Baron de Chirel brand. That has, in turn, been followed by single vineyard Finca Torrea.

More remarkable still was its early foray into Rueda, establishing a winery in the 1970s under the Riscal brand. They now own 250Ha and buy in grapes from another 250Ha to make 4.5m bottles a year, and have done a huge amount to drive Global recognition of these Verdejo whites. I have always found the entry-level at £6-7 very good value.

Marqués de Riscal Frank Gehry hotel front view

The classic aspect of Frank Gehry’s luxury Riscal hotel

Most famously, however, in 2006 they opened a hotel at the Elciego bodega. Not just a hotel, but a super-luxury one. And not just that, but designed by world-famous architect, Frank Gehry. In many ways, this landmark – it certainly stands out in the region – is becoming more famous than Riscal’s wines.

Marqués de Riscal bodega from the hotel

The Marqués de Riscal bodega from within the purple-tinted titanium hotel roof

We stayed one night in the hotel, immediately before the IMW Symposium, just to experience it, including dining there in their more casual restaurant. The hotel is a very beautiful and highly distinctive building.

Marqués de Riscal hotel vineyard roses

Roses planted in the small vineyard set around the hotel

I can’t say it is ‘sympathetic’ to the environment or takes any cues from its surrounds – it stands out from miles away. It is very much a Frank Gehry design, rather than Frank Gehry designing something wine- or Rioja-inspired.

Marqués de Riscal hotel environs view

The Gehry design contrasts with rather than compliments its environment

Nevertheless, it is rightly a landmark that attracts attention and wealthy visitors, which are both good things for Riscal and for Rioja.

Marqués de Riscal Elciego church view

Contrasting the old of Elciego church with the new of Riscal’s hotel

Further, a few days later, the ‘gala dinner’ for the Symposium was held at Riscal as well. They can certainly host a party and a fantastic night was had by all.

Marqués de Riscal gala dinner tapas

Tapas and fine wine from Riscal, Rioja Alta, Muga, Terras Gauda, and Vega Sicilia, before the gala dinner

Marqués de Riscal squid cooking

The Riscal team kept beautiful, fresh tapas coming to accompany the great wine

I poured our table’s wines and took this nicely-symmetrical picture, which was fortunately good enough to win that night’s photography competition, so I now have a magnum of Baron de Chirel 2002 to taste at a suitable future moment!

Marqués de Riscal gala dinner table

A fully laid-out decagonally-symmetrical table, ready for the gala dinner to start

The day we stayed, we arranged a comprehensive tasting of the upper end of their range, which was led by their Italian-born PR person Francesca Giuliani. As we were pressed for time, we didn’t do a winery tour but the tasting was comprehensive.

Marqués de Riscal tasting room

Traditionally decked-out tasting room

Overall, the wines were more variable than I think Riscal should be aiming for, given their heritage, strength, capacity to invest and so on.

Marqués de Riscal tasting line-up

Marqués de Riscal tasting line-up

There were undoubtedly highlights in both the Rueda and Rioja wines. The Rueda Limousin, though richly oaked, and the top-flight Baron de Chirel pre-Phylloxera Verdejo, both showed the potential of the variety and the region. The special 150th Anniversary Gran Reserva 2010 was a very good Rioja without question.

Frank Gehry Selection 2012

The dramatic, weighty Frank Gehry Selection bottle. Pity about the brett

Yet their top wine, a Vino de Autor-style Frank Gehry Selection 2012, in all its big, designer-bottled finery, was brett-infected. That’s just not good enough for a wine priced at an eye-watering €254 / bottle. The 2007 Gran Reserva that we had with dinner, plus the 2014 Reserva drunk a few weeks later, were both solidly pleasant, rather than having that extra dimension that I’d want to see from a great estate.

I can see what they’re trying to do, and I hope things get turned up a notch or two in future.



Marqués de Riscal Rueda Limousin 2016 (17 / 20)
Used to be matured in Limousin oak, but now Allier. 100% Verdejo from 40+ year old vines. 6 months in 2,000L new French oak. A second bottle was opened due to a suspicion of light TCA dulling fruit. The second was denser in palate-fruit and length. Cork sealed, though entry-level Rueda has a screwcap option which they recommend vs. 2-3% TCA risks, and their organic Rueda only comes in screwcap. €11 / bottle in Spain.
A: Mid-deep gold
N: Oak spice, honey and wild yeast funky tones. Boxwood. Dense tropical fruit with pungent overtones. Toasty
P: Spice, nutty-creamy. Full-bodied, tropical fruit and boxwood. Spice. Honey. Long

Marqués de Riscal Baron de Chirel Viñas Centenarias 2015 (17+ / 20)
As this is made from ungrafted, pre-Phylloxera wines, it is not permitted in the Rueda DO. Therefore labelled as Vino de la Tierra Verdejo. 900m altitude. 14.5% ABV. €36 / bottle in Spain.
A: Mid-lemon gold
N: Reductive tone. Toasty oak. Wild yeast funk. Spice, mango and ripe gooseberry fruit beneath. Dense
P: Medium body. Brisk acidity. Salty touch to spice. Creamy vanilla tones to mid-palate. Some flint. Long – lengthens on warming

Marqués de Riscal Rosado Vinas Viejas 2016 (16.5 / 20)
75% Garnacha, 25% Tempranilo / Tinta de Toro. 2 months on Sauvignon Blanc fine lees. Vino de la Tierra as Rosado not permitted in Rueda. €28 / bottle in Spain.
A: Pale onion skin
N: Herbal, blackcurrant leaf tones to delicate strawberry. Boxwood. Some apple. Saline
P: Supple, boxwood and strawberry. Some apple. Creamy mid-palate to finish

Marqués de Riscal Rioja Finca Torrea 2015 (17 / 20)
90% Tempranilo, 10% 45-55 year old Graciano. 2009 first vintage. Single vineyard around the winery, with the vineyard map as the label design. First use of optical sorting to select individual berries. French oak vat fermentation then 18 months in French oak. 14.5% ABV.
A: Deep ruby
N: Ripe red and black cherry. Earthy spice and cedar oak. Some fresh leather traditional fermentation tones. Chocolate hints
P: Sweet, dense black cherry. Heady and full. Creamy vanilla. Firm, peppery tannins. Warming finish detracts somewhat

Marqués de Riscal Rioja Gran Reserva 150th Anniversario 2010 (17.5 / 20)
88% Tempranilo, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon (labelled as ‘other’ varieties). First vintage 2001, then continued the label with 2004 and 2010 top vintages only. 32 months French oak. €43 / bottle.
A: Deep garnet
N: Cedar and some toasted coconut hints. Creamy vanilla. Clove. Tobacco. Prune and plum fruit
P: Chocolate. Supple and slightly dried, ripe fruit. Rich. Spicy. Medium, fine tannins. Rich. Full. Long

Marqués de Riscal Rioja Reserva Frank Gehry Selection 2012 (16 / 20)
2001 first vintage. 100% Tempranillo. €254 / bottle. Very large, heavy bottle.
A: Deep ruby-black
N: Bretty, sweaty saddles. Metallic. Ripe fruit beneath
P: Brisk acidity. Prune and plum fruit. Fairly firm, grainy tannins. Medium-long to long

Marqués de Riscal Rioja Gran Reserva 2007 (17 / 20)
Drunk at dinner, hence brief note only.
A: Mid-deep garnet
N: Cedar and tobacco; classical notes and balance. Fair complexity
P: Fair structure; could age further

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