Azpilicueta – a musical chairs brand that’s stronger than ever

Azpilicueta (Ahth-pee-lee-QUAY-ta) is one of Rioja’s most visible brands, currently the property of Domecq Bodegas, owned in turn by the French drinks giant Pernod Ricard.

The brand Azpilicueta was created in 1881 when a winery was founded in Fuenmayor by Manuel Azpilicueta.  In the early 1960s, Azpilicueta was joined by two other Rioja wineries owned respectively by Cruz García and Melquíades Entrena and AGE (Azpilicueta, García, Entrena) was created.

AGE was one of the first Rioja wineries, along with Campo Viejo, to attack the mass market by selling to the incipient supermarket trade and its brand Siglo, with its characteristic burlap wrapping around the bottle, was one of the category leaders for many years.

The winery underwent a series of changes of ownership after Entrena left the company to manage Bodegas Berberana.  The Canadian whiskey distiller Schenley and the Spanish bank Banesto were major shareholders for a while until the mid 1990s when it was bought by the Bodegas & Bebidas group, held as an investment by the Bank of Bilbao (later the BBVA).

The BBVA decided to sell of most of its food and wine business investments and AGE, Campo Viejo and other wineries were bought by Allied Domecq, which, in spite of its French roots and centuries-old wine heritage in Jerez, was a British drinks conglomerate whose capital was mostly from a brewery.

Azpilicueta is no longer made at AGE, but at Campo Viejo in Logroño.

In  spite of these changes, brand Azpilicueta has actually been strengthened by these changes, as better winemaking and a worldwide sales network has given it much needed visibility.  It’s currently on most restaurant lists in Spain and popular as a pour in bars, too.  As a matter of fact my cuadrilla drinks several bottles at our local bar every Saturday and Sunday before lunch.

My tasting notes of Azpilicueta crianza 2006:

Medium ruby, intense plum, dark fruit and spice, well-balanced oak and fruit.  Drinking well now.