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Riojas of Marqués de Murrieta

by Tom Cannavan, 03/00

Raeburn Fine Wines of Edinburgh (0131 343 1159) held a trade tasting of the wines of Marqués de Murrieta in their vaults in the Port of Leith. Murrieta are one of the oldest and most respected bodegas of Rioja and are reckoned to be one of the most traditional houses. Their wines are made in a "classic" Rioja style and receive particularly long ageing in barrel before release. Their wines are generally concentrated and long-lived, both red and white, and some - like the Gran Reserva "Castillo Ygay" - have become almost legendary amongst Rioja-lovers. Marqués de Murrieta have not stood back and stagnated however: at this tasting not only did they present an excellent Albariño from an operation they run in Rías Baixas in Spain's Northwest, but two new and very special red wines: the "Colección 2001" is a modern-take on Rioja, brimming with fruit and receiving minimum ageing in oak. At the other end of the scale, "Dalmau" is a super-Rioja, which has around 10% Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend and sells at over £50 per bottle.

Rioja has been on a bit of a roll of late, the Consejo Regulador officially classifying both the '94 and '95 vintages as Outstanding, with '96 to '98 rated Good or Excellent.

This tasting was not blind. Due to the low light in Raeburn's atmospheric old vaults, colour assessment was difficult. Trade prices are quoted per case, and VAT @ 17.5% is not included (£100=$160US).

White

Pazo de Barrantes (Rías Baixas) Albariño 1998 - £96.84
Bready, peachy aromas are rich yet somehow steely, with some orange nuances developing. On the palate the texture is quite dense, and flavours of waxy lime and apple predominate, though there is a certain nuttiness too. This has weighty fruit and is a powerful wine with excellent length. Very good.

Rioja Reserva Especial 1994 - £82.80
This wine was drunk with lunch after the tasting, where it partnered a warm chorizo and Parmesan salad to sensational effect. The nose has green beans, wax and loads of buttery fruit. This is a pungent and powerful white wine with hay and straw-like aromas as well as apple and spice. On the palate it is oily and rich, with a vanilla flavour laid over the fruit and a great, broad backbone of acidity. Delicious and very fine.

Rioja Reserva Especial "Capellania" 1995 - £87.00
(The same wine as the vintage above, but Murietta have begun to use the vineyard name on the labels of both their white and red Reserva Especial bottlings). The nose is very distinctive: sweet and creamy, quite high with volatile plasticene and rubber aromas as well as wild herbs and spice. The palate is full and juicy, with a weight of dense fruit and waxy chewiness. Very good.

Rioja Gran Reserva Especial "Castillo Ygay " 1986 - £186.60
Intense, pungent nose of wax, herbs and lemon. Lots of sweet vanilla and ripe white fruits. The palate is quite fresh, with firm acidity, but a great buttery density of fruit. There's a keen citrus edge against all that waxy lime-leaf, orange and butter. Long, pure finish. Excellent.

Red

Rioja "Colección 2001" 1997 - £82.80
This has a gorgeous nose with cedar and plum and a smoky, charcoally, grilled quality. There's a ripe cherry edge too and on the palate it is filled with sweet cherry fruit, but also dark, deep damson flavours and a chocolaty richness. Very lush and mouth-pleasing, the lowish acidity probably means this is best drunk young, but it is delicious and packed with fruit. Very good.

Rioja Reserva 1995 - £96.84
Clean on the nose with mulberry and black cherry fruit. The palate is quite chewy and liquorice-edged with drying tannins and lemony acidity. There's a great concentration of fruit: plenty of blackcurrant and black cherry as well as a bittersweet coffee flavour showing up in the finish. Good length. Very good.

Rioja Reserva Especial "Prado Lagar" 1995 - £138.00
Beautifully sweet, blackberry and cassis fruit on the nose with sharper raspberry and confectionary highlights. Delicate background scents of rose-hips and toffee. The fruit on the palate is very clean and pure. Terrific balance and wonderfully harmonious - long, and concentrated, this is excellent.

Rioja Gran Reserva Especial "Castillo Ygay " 1989 - £183.00
There's a definite whiff of volatility about the nose that could be a little off-putting if it wasn't for the fact that the 1970 Ygay that followed had an identical aroma, yet was 30 years old, balanced and quite delicious! There is a massive layering of smoky and sweet, mainly fruity aromas beneath that initial volatility however, with kirsch, minerals and a warm tobacco note. The palate is medium-bodied, the fruit quite light, though not dilute, and the finish showing some fine tannins and good acidity. This wine is powerful yet quite svelte, and should age gracefully.

Rioja Gran Reserva Especial "Castillo Ygay " 1970 - £450.60 per six
This was drunk with lunch after the formal tasting, accompanying a nouvelle cuisine version of a duck cassoulet very nicely. Youthful colour. This has some beautifully ripe cherry fruit and subtle, complex nuances of old wood, and a certain resinous quality. That high, varnishy volatility is still present but is much more integrated in the overall aromatic picture. On the palate this wine really has lovely finesse, structure and complexity. There's a terrifically clean quality of fruit and herbal and tobacco notes. There's so much blackcurrant and coffee, a mineral element and sweet violet and damp earth. It is very pure, very classy and still shows spicy and floral notes into a long, focused finish. Outstanding.

Rioja "Dalmau de Murrieta" 1995 - £450.00
100% Rioja Alta fruit, grown at altitude and picked late, well into October. This is immensely rich and concentrated on the nose. There's a heavy overlay of smoky vanillin oak, leading on to sumptuous blackcurrant and berry fruit. The rich, creamy mouth-feel shows a mass of sweet strawberry and raspberry fruit, with chocolate, black cherry and fudge. Fleshy and chewy-textured, it has good tannins, lowish acidity and very good balance. Drinking well now, but should age.