Marqus de Murrieta, Rioja, Spain
A tasting of their wines, including Castillo Ygay back to 1925

Marqus de Murrieta, one of Rioja's leading wineries, has only been owned by two families since 1852. It's currently run by Vicente Dalmau Cebrin, whose father bought the estate in 1983. He says there is a special relationship between a family and wine, one that leads to good balance. 'Wine is never pleasant when it is next to a bank, an insurance company, or the stock market,' says Vicente. 'If there is any financial pressure, the wine doesn't react well.'

'We are unique in Rioja,' explains Vicente. 'We own 300 hectares of vines and are the largest single estate in Rioja.' Marques de Murrieta are based in Rioja Alta, next to Logroo. '100% of the grapes we use come from this estate,' says Vicente, pointing out that 83% of Rioja vineyards are owned by growers or co-ops, with just 17% being owned by wineries.

Ygay pronounced 'ee-guy' is the name of the estate and is the oldest brand in Rioja. The founder was Luciano Murrieta, was from Bilbao and discovered high quality wine while he was living in London. It was during this time that he fell in love with wine and realized that Rioja had great potential. So he spent three years in Bordeaux learning about it, and made his first wine in 1848.

In 1851 he sold the first wines from the region to export markets: Mexico and Cuba.

In 1852 he heard good news from these markets: the wine had travelled well and the quality was good. So in 1852 he bought estates and built a chateau, bringing the French concept to Rioja. Initially, he named it the Chateau Ygay, but the French weren't happy with the use of the C word, so he renamed it Castillo.

Vicente's father died 16 years ago at the young age of 47, when Vicente was just 24 (he had been working with the family property since the age of 17), so he has overseen the recent updating of the winery. 'I'm looking to get the personality of the estate into the wines,' he says. If he's asked to define the house, he uses the terms elegance and complexity.

Four wines are made in Rioja (they also own properties in the Rias Baixas and Ribera del Duero):

Cappelania (white)
Marques de Murrieta
Castillo Ygay
Dalmau (a new project that's small production c 20 000 bottles made in a modern style)

Reserva is the average quality of the estate, which has no vines under the age of 10. The average vine age is 35 years. 80% of the vineyard is planted with Tempranillo, which gives structure and balance, and works well with oak. Garnacha offers alcohol and colour, but it can evolve quickly. Graciano brings acidity, aromas and tannins, and works well with Tempranillo. Mazuelo (Carignan) offers acidity and is the most important grape for Gran Reservas, bringing acidity and tannins but not aromas. It's important for longevity.

There's been an updating of the top wine, Castillo Ygay, since the turn of the Century. There is more selection in the vineyard, and the blend is now mostly Tempranillo with a bit of Mazuelo. The Graciano now goes to Dalmau. Vicente describes the decision to update the wine as, 'a challenge,' because the style is so distinctive. 'We are trying to maintain the identity of the wine but balance the fruit and oak, and maintain the acidity,' he says. There's a small plot in the vineyard calls 'La Plana', which has very special Tempranillo and unique Mazuelo. The 80 year old Mazuelo is harvested at 1 ton/hectare and fermented in 3000 litre French oak vats, and then goes to small French oak, while the Tempranillo is fermented in stainless steel and goes to small American oak. The wine now spends less time in oak. I really liked the 2001 and 2004, but found the 2005 a bit too ripe and modern.

The older wines were sensational.

1925 in the glass


Marqus de Murrieta Etiqueta Blanca 1982 Rioja, Spain
This 'white label' is a Crianza, and is the last one they made. Made from the lighter, less structured wines. Slightly fading rim. Sweetly aromatic with herbs and cherries. Drying palate with some spice, nice lemony acidity and notes of herbs and tea. Quite savoury with some leathery notes, and the fruit has receded a bit. Fading slightly but very drinkable. 90/100

Marqus de Murrieta Gran Reserva 1983 Rioja, Spain
78% Tempranillo, 11% Mazuelo, 8% Garnacha, 3% Graciano. Aged for 57 months in small oak. Some bricking on the rim. Warm, sweet, soy sauce, herbs and meat notes on the nose. The palate is sweet and slightly faded but with elegance, and notes of spices and herbs. Strawberry and cherry fruit characters mesh with leather and spice. Drink now: quite complex and nicely elegant. 93/100          

Marqus de Murrieta Rioja Gran Reserva Limited Edition 2004 Spain
91% Tempranillo, 6% Garnacha, 3% Mazuelo. 26 months in small oak, with all the wine spending at least 8 months in first use oak. Deep coloured for a Gran Reserva. Aromatically rich spicy nose with ripe cherries, plums and warm spices. Lovely dense, ripe berry fruits palate with earth, spice and blackberry fruit, as well as some subtle green notes adding freshness. Lovely density and freshness as well as some richer spicy notes. Great ageing potential. 93/100

Marqus de Murrieta Reserva 2008 Rioja, Spain
Warm and spicy with nice dense fruit and also some warmth. Nice density here: sweet and spicy with a hint of coconut and vanilla. Nicely balanced and quite seductive with a spicy finish. Still fruity and youthful. 89/100

Marqus de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 1925 Rioja, Spain
49% Tempranillo, 19% Garnacha, 17% Mazuelo, 15% Graciano. This was aged for 8 months in 18500 litre tank, 5 years in fairly new American oak barrels, and then 33 years in old, large American oak barrels, bottled in 1964. It's slightly cloudy and a deep brown/red colour. Savoury earthy nose. Fresh, lemony edge to the palate with warm, savoury, slightly balsamic characters and  bit of fruit, still. Lovely balance despite the age with complex, concentrated flavours. Still very much alive and quite delicious. It's nice not to have to make excuses for such an old wine. 97/100

Marqus de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 1975 Rioja, Spain
Moving forward 50 years, this is a blend of 76% Tempranillo, 11% Mazuelo, 9% Garnacha and 4% Graciano. The wine was aged for 102 months in small oak, and was bottled in 1984. Warm and sweet with notes of soy sauce, cherries, earth and also some subtle green characters. The palate is herby, savoury and spicy with herbs, lemons, cherries and plums. Now fully mature, this is quite elegant with supple drinkability and nice complexity. There's a lovely purity to this wine. 95/100

Marqus de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 1978 Rioja, Spain
75% Tempranillo, 12% Mazuelo, 10% Garnacha, 3% Graciano. Aged for 216 months in small oak, bottled 1998. Savoury, spicy and quite firm with grippy tannins and nice depth.Cherry and plum fruit to the fore, with some tightness still and complex notes of iodine, herbs and spice. This has a more reserved personality than the 1975 with some fresh acidity. Lovely wine. 95/100

Marqus de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 2001 Rioja, Spain
93% Tempranillo, 7% Mazuelo. 31 months in small oak. Warm, aromatic, complex nose with some black tea, warm herbs, black cherries and cedar notes. The palate is warm, spicy and generous, with good focus and sweet warm notes, as well as freshness and minerality. Very stylish with lovely maturity, but still has life to it. There's a bit of grip. A really lovely wine. 95/100

Marqus de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 2004 Rioja, Spain
93% Tempranillo, 7% Mazuelo, 29 months in small oak. Lovely nose with a cedary edge to the plummy fruit. The palate is restrained with a subtle chocolatey, spicy, mineral edge to the fruit. A lovely classic, minerally wine with nice elegance and lovely linear fruit. Great potential for ageing. 96/100

Marqus de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 2005 Rioja, Spain
89% Tempranillo, 11% Mazuelo. Rich, dense and tight. Youthful and already quite complex with herbs, spices, blackberries and plums. Quite ripe and mature with a hint of cocoa and nice harmony. A seductive, ripe wine with smooth structure. Quite warm. 93/100

Wines tasted at a Handford Wines event, an excellent independent wine merchant in South Kensington, London.

See also:

Visiting Rioja (series)
Visiting Torres (series)

Wines tasted 10/13  
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