The wines of Marques de Murrieta are deeply entwined in Spanish history, and have not only helped to build the reputation of Rioja, but also Spain itself.
Unlike Bordeaux, Rioja has no official classification table listing its greatest estates, but if anyone were to draw up that kind of hierarchy, there is no question that the Marques de Murrieta would occupy the same kind of place as Chateaux Lafite, Mouton Rothschild and Margaux do in the Médoc. The oldest of the Rioja region’s top estates, Marques de Murrieta was established close to the southern tip of the Rioja Alta in 1852 by Luciano Francisco Ramón de Murrieta. A Peruvian-born, unusually resourceful soldier, Murrieta had gone into exile in London with Baldomero Espartero, the former prime minister of Spain, during the Civil War of the 1840s. While in Britain he developed a taste for Bordeaux and later travelled to that part of France to discover how its wines were made. At the time, despite the struggles they were facing against a range of vineyard pests and diseases, French wine producers had a greater understanding of fermentation and the value of storing wine in oak barrels.
The skills he learned enabled Murrieta to improve the wines that being produced in vineyards belonging to Espartero, who had now returned to power with the title Duque de la Victoria. Murrieta’s wines were good enough to develop a reputation for their quality in overseas markets such as Cuba and Mexico, and were the first Rioja wines to be exported to other parts of the world. Armed with this winemaking apprenticeship and the reputation he had acquired as a winemaker, the Marquis of Murrieta launched his own brand and, in 1852, established his bodega and 300ha surrounding estate called Finca Ygay, near Logroño. Royal recognition of the quality of the wine he made there and the contribution he had made to the region came when the king named him Marquis of Murrieta. Following Murrieta’s death in 1911, the estate remained in the Murrieta family until its purchase in 1983 by another family led by Vicente Cebrián-Sagarriga, tenth Count of Creixell.
Vicente Cebrián-Sagarriga, who had bought the Bodega at the age of 34, died tragically young, 13 years later, passing it to his 26 year-old eldest son Vicente Dalmau, the winery’s owner and president today, who had been working in the winery since 1989. He took over the project with an unusual energy and determination. He decided to build an energetic and young team in which the winemaker María Vargas plays a relevant role.
In 1998 he launched Dalmau from the excellent vintage 1994, a richer, more full-bodied and earlier-bottled style of single vineyard wine made with the inclusion of some Cabernet Sauvignon, which had been grown on the estate over the past years, much before the creation of the Rioja appellation.
If Dalmau was controversial with some Riojan traditionalists, it won immediate recognition for its quality overseas, echoing the success Luciano Francisco Ramón de Murrieta had had a century earlier. From now on, there would be Reserva and – in the rare, most excellent years when quality permitted – Gran Reserva Especial. While the traditional Rioja characteristics of Tempranillo-based blends and careful barrel-ageing were maintained, there was a shift towards greater freshness of flavour. This was particularly apparent in the white which was renamed Capellanía. Tradition was not abandoned however. The glorious iconic labels were maintained and, while the current Gran Reserva Especial vintages age for 30 months in barrel rather than the 312 months imposed on the 1970, they remain one of the touchstones for the region. Ironically, the longest barrel-aged wine now is the Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Blanco which spends over 25 years in wood and is one of the few examples of this style that is still being produced.
Alongside these Rioja wines, Vicente Dalmau Cebrián-Sagarriga, Count of Creixell, also produces highly respected Albariños from the Pazo Barrantes estate in Rias Baixas, that has belonged to his family since 1511. Here, too, modernisation has been also introduced in the shape of a skilfully wooden vat fermented and aged white wine called La Comtesse de Pazo Barrantes.
The family philosophy of combining tradition and innovation is now revealed to huge numbers of wine lovers who every year visit the Castillo de Ygay from which Murrieta’s top wine takes its name. Where other bodegas have built ultra-modern architectural marvels, Vicente Dalmau Cebrián-Sagarriga has reconstructed the original castle using sandstone that has been specially treated to impart the impression of age. Seventy thousand bottles of vintages stretching back to 1852 slumber in a private library while the current vintages can be sampled from enomatic machines, and a luxurious private kitchen led by the winery’s chef has been modelled on the one at the El Bulli Restaurant. In all of these efforts it is easy to see a continuation of the blend of curiosity and ambition established 162 years ago by Luciano Francisco Ramón de Murrieta – along with the will to retain the position of one of Rioja’s leading ‘first growths’.
In this way, Vicente D. Cebrián-Sagarriga becomes the perfect inheritor of Luciano’s philosophy and vision. He is capable of facing the XXI century with a more solid and stronger Murrieta than ever. A winery that does honour to its legend and which continues playing a vital role within the world of Riojan and Spanish wine.
Marques de Murietta
Carretera Logroño-Zaragoza km 5
La Rioja, Spanien