After a hard week at the annual meeting of the Great Wine Capitals Global Network in Bordeaux, we decided to spend a relaxing weekend at our summer house near Santander. However, gale force winds and driving rain made us miserable so we decided to leave early for Logroño, a nice Sunday lunch and a warm, dry house.
While Toñica prepared a dish of hake fillets in white wine sauce, I went to the cellar in the basement to find an appropriate wine for the meal. My eyes landed on a bottle of Marqués de Murrieta Castillo Ygay gran reserva 1989 which ended up on the dinner table. Not only did it go really well with the fish, it brought back memories of how Rioja used to be made.
I remember my first visit to the winery in the mid-1980s. Winemaker Alfonso Troya, who learned his trade from the great Jesús Marrodán, explained that traditional houses like Murrieta didn’t need to age their wines in bottle before release – they were aged for years in old barrels that had lost most of their capacity to microoxigenate the wine inside, so consequently, were ready to drink when bottled.
In the late 1980s the winery decided to release some of the Castillo de Ygay vintages with less barrel age than usual, holding back the rest for a further 10 to 20 years. These were the ‘early release’ Ygays, the first of which, 1985, was released in 1994.
Murrieta wines are produced exclusively from the winery’s extensive vineyards just outside Logroño and are blends of tempranillo and a generous amount of mazuelo, along with some garnacha and graciano. The percentages weren’t on the back label but most of the vintages favor the first two varieties.
The wine showed a medium brick color with no hint of brown, a nose that reminded me of spice and a cedar chest with hints of oak and a light, elegant mouthfeel. I thought it was at the top of its game. Perfect with Toñica’s fish.
Murrieta was always easy for me to recognize at tastings because of its distinctive spicy nose with just a hint of oak and the 1989 early release took me back 20 years, before the Wine Spectator and Robert Parker’s influence was as overpowering as it is today and fine, old Riojas were in great demand.
At the time this wine was made, the owner, Vicente Cebrián, a businessman with interests in newspaper publishing (he was one of the owners of the now-defunct newspaper YA), wanted to restore the estate to its original late 19th century splendor but suddenly died of a heart attack, leaving the property in the hands of his teenaged children Vicente and Cristina. They have continued their father’s plans but have, unfortunately in my opinion, given the wines a more modern style that may not be appreciated by the winery’s loyal fans.
The gran reserva 1989, however, was made before this change came about and I thoroughly enjoyed it! Call me a traditionalist, but wines like this are a treat!