Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 10

10 12 2019

By Tyler Derksen

Rioja and the wines that are produced there will always have a special place in my heart.  A little over a decade ago, when I looked to expand my knowledge of wine beyond the Aussie fruit bombs that dominated my wine-drinking youth, Rioja was a revelation.  Wines that have complex flavour, come pre-aged, and retailed for an amount that I, new to the professional world and balancing my first mortgage and buying my own food and clothes, could afford?  Surrounded by those still buying whatever was on sale that week at the local liquor store, it felt like my little secret.  Turns out, it’s kind of a big deal.

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Located in the north of Spain, Rioja is one of the country’s major winemaking regions, with a history dating back hundreds of years.  Sometimes referred to as the Bordeaux of Spain, the wines produced in this region are often blends, typically dominated by Tempranillo, although it is now not uncommon these days to see single-varietal bottlings of Tempranillo and other grapes common to the region.  Rioja also has a tradition of aging their wines in oak for extended periods of time, often using American wood.  That aging process is an important part of the development and character of wines from the region, and the subject of strict classification laws.  Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva are all indicators of how long the wine has been aged in oak.  Wines with the Crianza designation must be aged for at least two years, one of which must be in oak.  The Reserva designation requires aging of three years, with at least one year in oak, and Gran Reserva must be aged for at least five years, two of which must be in oak, with the remainder of the aging occurring in bottle.

 

Today’s bottle is the 2014 Herederos Del Marqués de Riscal Reserva.  Marques de Riscal is one of the oldest producers in Rioja, founded in 1858 by Guillermo Hurtado de Amézaga, the Marqués de Riscal (hence the name).  The winery sits atop a mini-catacomb of a cellar totalling two and a half miles.  In addition, the grounds of Marqués de Riscal houses a massive complex devoted to wine, including a hotel, spa and restaurants.  The City of Wine, as the complex is called, is stunningly modern and was designed by famed Canadian architect Frank O. Gehry.  Looking more like a museum than a winery (not surprising, as Gehry also designed the Guggenheim Museum in the city of Bilbao, Spain), and covered in titanium, the building shines with the colours meaningful to the winery: pink for the wines, silver for the cap on the bottle, and gold for the mesh wrapped around it (we will get to that in a moment).  To entice Gehry to accept the commission to design the City of Wine, the winery’s proposal was accompanied by a bottle of wine from his birth year, 1929.  

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The City of Wine in all of its modern, Canadian-designed, glory.  Photo credit: Marques De Riscal website

The wines used in Marqués de Riscal wines come from the cooler climate Riojan sub-zone of Rioja Alavesa and are sourced from vineyards owned by the winery and others controlled by it.  The red grapes grown are Tempranillo, Graciano (a curious high-acid, high-tannin blending variety recently coming into its own), Cabernet Sauvignon and Mazuelo (also, as I just learned, known as Carignan).  As I am sure many of you have noticed, some of the wines from Rioja are sold with a fine gold netting around the bottle.  I had always assumed that this was a marketing peculiarity of the region, something to set it apart.  While this is true today, it was not always the case.  It turns out that the mesh was an invention of Marqués de Riscal’s founder Guillermo Hurtado de Amézaga.  One method of wine counterfeiting was for unsavoury folk to put sub-par wine in an empty bottle from a different, more acclaimed, producer.  Amézaga was worried about this and developed the netting, or malla, as a safeguard against such activities, as the cork could not be removed without cutting the netting.  The more you know.  

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Cork Rating: 4/10  (A bit perfunctory for my tastes, but the lack of telephone number and little design on the back adds some points.)

The 2014 Herederos Del Marqués de Riscal Reserva is a blend of Tempranillo (90%), Graciano (7%) and a splash of Mazuelo (3%), which was aged in American oak barrels for 24 months.  The wine in the glass is a deep garnet with only the slightest hint of aging.  The nose, while a bit muted, is characteristically Rioja with notes of cherry, black liquorice, baking spices, vanilla Coke, ball glove leather, and clay dust.  The palate ushers in more fruit, with flavours of black plum, blackberry, and hints of tobacco, more leather, and pen ink.  While certainly not a patio wine, it would pair wonderfully with a good book next to a fire.

88+ points


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