1. Old School – Herederos del Marqués de Riscal – is one of the great historic wineries of Rioja. It was founded in 1860 but did not release its first vintage until 1862. Along with Marqués de Murrieta (1852), López de Heredia (1877), CVNE (1879), Montecillo (1872) and La Rioja Alta (1890) it is regarded as one of the pioneers of so-called “classic” Rioja, a style that emerged in the second part of the 19th Century.
2. Start of a Revolution - Hurtado de Amézaga was a diplomat, writer and freethinker, rather than a winemaker, and had lived in self-imposed exile in Bordeaux since 1836 because of political turmoil in Spain. He inherited his sister’s possessions in 1858, including some vineyards and a cellar. This inspired him to leave Bordeaux and begin to make wine in Rioja.
3. French Influence - At first, Hurtado de Amézaga experimented with traditional Spanish winemaking techniques, but by the time the first wine was made in his newly built winery in 1862, he’d adapted the techniques of Bordeaux. As early as 1860, he imported Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Semillon and Pieponille to Rioja and distributed them to other producers in the Rioja Alavesa. 75 percent of his vineyards were made up of indigenous grapes (Tempranillo, Graciano and Viura) but the remainder was from French clones.
As a result of his Bordeaux connections, Hurtago was asked by the government of the region of Alava in 1862 to recommend a French winemaker who could pass on his knowledge to the locals. He recommended Jean Pineau from Château Lanessan in the Haut-Médoc, who was also employed as the first estate manager at Riscal when his contract with the Diputación Foral de Alava expired six years later.
4. An smart way to stop fraud – It’s rumored that Hurtado was who invented the wire-mesh net that is used by Riscal to this day. The “malla” was developed as an anti-fraud measure to stop people filling empty bottles of Riscal with other, lesser wines. In order to get the cork out, you have to cut the net.
5. World-famous architect – Riscal is as famous for its Frank Gehry-designed spa and hotel as it is for its wines. Gehry’s pink, gold and silver titanium canopies are among the most photographed architectural structures in Spain. Riscal receives 75,000 visitors a year.
6. So Basque - Riscal owns around 1230 acres of vineyards in Rioja these days, the acquisition of the Marqués de Arienzo brand from Pernod-Ricard in 2010, which came with 740 acres increased the land holdings. It also buys grapes from local growers. Unlike many leading Rioja wineries, which blend grapes across the DOC’s three sub-regions (Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja), Riscal only grows and sources grapes from Rioja Alavesa, especially the villages of Elciego and Laguardia. True to its roots, it’s a Basque winery.
7. A start for Rueda – Riscal was also a pioneer in another region of Spain. With the help of the famous French consultant and academic, Émile Peynaud, he settled on the forgotten region of Rueda, northwest of Madrid. The first whites made with the local Verdejo grape were released in 1972. Hurtado de Amézaga was also instrumental in the creation of the Rueda Denominación de Origen in 1980 and the resurrection of the region’s vineyards.
8. Cabernet, what? Until the 1950s, wines that contained Cabernet were known at Riscal as “RM”, short for “Reserva Médoc”. In 1986, the winery released an icon wine called Barón de Chirel, made with Tempranillo and what the DOC still obliges them to call “other grapes” ( aka.Cabernet Sauvignon). The percentage of Cabernet varies between 20 and 46 percent, but never appears on the label, despite the fact that Riscal has had 80 acres of the grape planted in Rioja since 1860.
9. A lot of Reserva – Riscal’s worldwide fame as an instantly recognizable Rioja brand has been built on one wine – the wire-mesh netted Reserva. The winery produces 3 to 4.5 million bottles of this wine each year, depending on the vintage.
10. Cellar Re-model - In 2011, Marqués de Riscal further modernized the cellar that was built infront of the original 1860 winery that dates back to 1883. The new winery comes complete with hydraulic presses and computer-controlled technology. Fermentation is in the traditional wooden uprights and aging happens in French or American oak barrels. No casks are kept for more than seven years.
11. Michelin Star - Rioja is a perfect pairing for any type of food. To showcase this, the winery has its own Michelin starred restaurant, Restaurante Marques de Riscal. On your next trip to Spain experience the exquisite dishes created by the prestigious Chef Francis Paniego while enjoying the Gran Reserva and the beautiful vistas from Riscal’s lovely Starwood hotel.
Wine Enthusiast (12/31/13)
“Earthy, leathery aromas of baked red fruits fit the classic style. This is full on the palate but not heavy, with cola, molasses, coffee and heady raspberry and plum flavors. A warm finish with fine tannins and ripe flavors of chocolate, lightly baked black fruits and vanilla. Drink 2015–2025.”