Wine Love for my Servers Chapter One: Marques de Murrieta

I have a lot of smart people in my life. The smartest among them suggested I post the weekly wine tutelage I give to my staff. With some trepidation, I do so, and here it is!

Good morning my lovelies,
As promised, this week's Wine Love is all about Marques de Murrieta as I had a wonderful tasting with their peeps last Friday. I have literally decades of experiences and memories with this wine, and consider one of the quintessential wines of Spain in terms of quality, history, and character. It is iconic, in the way that Lopez de Heredia is.
Marques de Murrieta is the oldest brand in Rioja, with the largest family-owned estate in the D.O.Ca. (Denominación de Orígen Calificada. By the way, please remember, only Rioja and Priorat have that "Calificada" distinction). The winery was established in 1852, the passionate dream of the Marques to create a French chateau-like estate in Rioja, and sits on 740 acres of prime Rioja Alta land. They were the first to employ oak barrels and sparked sweeping changes in Rioja which heretofore had made only young, fresh wines that were not age worthy despite the extraordinary quality of their fruit and terroir.
The winery has experienced remarkably few changes over the years. The grapes are still harvested by hand, and completely estate-grown. (This means they do not buy any fruit; all the grapes are carefully cultivated on their own land). Perhaps the biggest change was when Maria Vargas became the winemaker back in 2000 and instated a more rigorous harvesting regime. Since then, each of the 28 plots are monitored scrupulously and individually for ripeness. As the soil types and temperature vary from plot to plot, especially as the altitude increases, the grapes must be harvested when they whisper "I'm ready" and not when the calendar says so. The excellent winemakers of the world are deeply sensitive to that whisper!
The flagship wine, Marques de Murrieta Reserva (no crianzas are ever made, only Reserva, Gran Reserva, or sometimes Reserva Especial), is made from 35 year old vines from the Pago Valsalado. 2008 was a slightly cooler vintage, but to me the wine is still recognizably Murrieta, with withs cranberry and fireplace aromas, plump with sensual cherry and firm with oak-leaf tinged tannins. I have been drinking this wine for 30 years now, and although the variations between vintages are gratifyingly present, the wine always tastes familiar and clearly identifiable to me. The pomegranate tartness and burnished feel the American oak lends are beautiful markers. This wine, at $45 on our list, is an amazing purchase. (The blend is tempranillo, garnacha, graciano, and mazuelo and the crianza is 2 years in new American oak with 1 year in bottle before leaving the winery).
The Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva 2005 is a blend of 90% tempranillo and 10% mazuelo whose vines are an average of 85 years old. This is very old, and is only possible where the traditional and adaptable vines are encouraged as opposed to newer clones that "perform" better, but then are rarely as hardy. Only the oldest wineries have this tremendous asset. The plot is called La Plana, and sits at the top of the estate at 400 meters, a cool and windswept flat. Once harvested and vinified, the tempranillo is put into American oak barrels while the mazuelo goes into French. After 3 years, the wines are blended in cement and left to rest for 7 months before bottling. They will lay in the venerable Murrieta cellars for another 3 years before seeing the light of day in a store or restaurant! You can see the memory lane trip for me in my notes:
"It smells of cherry and chocolate, as it always did, those chocolate covered brandied cherries. The wine is broad, expensive, and expressive on my tongue. Spiced and firm, prognosticating a long, long life. Clean and polished. I'm back outdoors in the Riojan fresh air watching a hunting party in the fall, keen on wild boar with its promise of fat and smoke. Yes, all of these smells...Plum-skin edginess with raspberry ripeness and a superbly plush texture. Piquant acidity and notes of piquillo peppers."
The price will be jumping considerably. We've been selling it at $90 (a steal!) and it will now be $125 on the list due to price increases from the winery.
The family also owns a winery in the D.O. Rias Baixas, in the sub-zone of Val do Salnés, called Pazo de Barrantes where viti-viniculture has been in effect since 1511. It was the birthplace of the albariño grape! The 2013 vintage is delicious, made from 25 year old vines and left on the lees for 5 months. It smells of pear, jasmine and lemon. It is bright and lively in the mouth, with a medium bodied weight and a pleasing intensity. Mineral and floral notes are interwoven throughout. This albariño will be back on the list tonight, priced at $35, after a 4 month absence. Welcome back, Barrantes!
In a few weeks we will add to our expensive-and-worth-it albariños with La Comtesse de Pazo de Barrantes 2010. This is one of those sublime albariños with the purity of a spring and the decadence of triple creme. Made from 50 year old vines, and then fermented in a French oak vat for 50 days, the wine is pure nectar. The oak is only a suggestion ( or you know I would not stand for it!!) and only serves to add luxury to the texture. The wine is held back 1 year in bottle, hatching its yolk-like smoothness for our pleasure. Smell it and get a nose full of Bermuda - frangipane and a bit of sea - a lush and tropical experience. The pineapple is glossy but not overripe, and the granite soils have conferred an enormous sense of gravitas to the wine, like a bedrock of cold stone. Beautiful, even at $100.
Sell up a storm, amigos!

Deborah Hansen
Taberna de Haro
999 Beacon Street
Brookline, MA 02446
617 277 8272




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