Our base was the Hotel Marques Riscal, in Elciego, a tiny town on the road to the bigger destinations of Laguardia, Haro and Samaniego.
The Marqués de Riscal City of Wine, in Elciego (Álava), includes: the original bodega, built in 1860; the Plaza del Reloj (Square of the Sun Dial); the first enlargement of the bodega, a building dating from 1883 constructed in the Bordeaux style and known as El Palomar (the Dovecote), where the company’s premium wines are made; the winery’s visitors’ center with the souvenir and gift shop (Tastings must be reserved and are conducted in several languages); and the striking Hotel Marqués de Riscal, designed by the renowned architect, Frank O. Gehry (whose work also includes the Guggenheim Museum in Bilboa), with 61 rooms.
Our tasting, enjoyed after a tour of the old and new facilities:
- 2021 Marquez de Riscal Verdejo ($12). White mid straw-gold; green fruit nose, some stone fruit, apricot; mid-acids crisp green fruit fruity finish. 15.5-16 UC Davis scale, 89-90 other scales.
- 2018 Arienzo die Marques de Riscal, Rioja Alavesa, Crienza. $15. 18 months in American oak, one year in the bottle before release. 13.9% alcohol. Mid ruby; red fruit, wood, shoe polish and cherry nose; mid acids, mid plus tannins; round semi-short red fruit finish. 15.5-16/89-90.
- 2017 Marques de Riscal Reserva. $25. 24 months in American oak, then one year in bottle before release. 14.2% alcohol. Mid dark garnet; viscous; red fruit, sweet wood, berry nose; mid acids mid tannins semi long woody, red fruit finish. 16/90.
- 2015 Marques de Riscal Gran Reserva. $48. 28 months in French oak casks, then three years in the bottle before release from vines over 80 years old. 15% alcohol. Mid dark garnet; red fruit nose; smokey, strawberries, wood; mid acids, mid plus tannins, mid depth; long semi chewy hot finish. 16.5/91.
Produces about 300,000 bottles a year, mostly organic, from vines 60 to 120 years old on 82 hectares. Many small plots.
- Bodega Amaren 2019 Rioja Alavesa Barrel Fermented White (€18). Blend, mostly Viura; 10 months in barrels; 34,000 bottles. Mid- gold, viscous ( 13.5 alcohol). Stone fruit, citrus, honeysuckle, floral nose; mid-plus acids; some depth; long crisp fruity finish. 16-16.5 UC Davis scale, 90-91 other scales.
- Bodega Amaren 2017 Carraquintana (€57). Difficult year with frost, small yields. 2,400 bottles. From a single vineyard. Blend of mostly Tempranillo, with Malvasia about 15%. Mid dark ruby; viscous ( 14.5 percent alcohol). Red fruit, cedar, tobacco, oak nose; mid-plus acids, tannins; long semi chewy berry and wood finish. 16.5/91.
- Bodega Amaren 2017 El Regollar (€70). Farmed sustainably. Blend of several different varieties. Mostly Tempranillo, with lesser amounts of Malvasia, Murgones and Graciano. Only 898 bottles produced in a frost year. Calcareous, clay soil. Malolactic fermentation in 500-liter French oak barrels and 225 liter American oak barrel. Age 17 months in the barrels. Dark purple, viscous (14.5 alcohol). Earthy, intense red fruit nose; mint, berries; balanced; mid-plus acids and tannins; deep fruit; long rich finish. 17-17.5/92-93.
- Bodega Amaren 2011 Reserva 60 (€33). Average vine age, 60 years, 100% Tempranillo. Hand selection of bunches, then sorting individual berries. 22 months in new French oak barrels, malolactic fermentation. 23,000 bottles. Dark purple, viscous (15.0 alcohol); dark purple; ripe grape nose; big berries, peppery, wood, cedar; mid-plus acids and tannins. Long rich finish. 17.5/93
Entry is into a 500 square meter glass box, with views of vineyards and Samaniego scenery. The wide open venue has a capacity of 250 and is used for business and personal events and tastings. The rest of the winery flows down the hill and the entire winemaking process is done by gravity, with no pumping or mechanical lifting. Grapes are harvested and sorted manually. Some vineyards are more than 100 years old. The Baigorri restaurant is on the sixth underground level with views of the vineyards and the barrel cellar. It offers different tasting menus with wines, which we enjoyed during our visit.
- Value Spanish rosado. Bodegas Baigorri 2021 Rioja Rosado (€8). Mid salmon, some viscosity; red fruit and floral nose; melon, strawberry; semi dry; medium acids; medium body, good fruit; strawberry finish. 16/90.
- Fine value 2017 Bodegas Baigorri Rioja Blanco Fermentado en Barrica (Barrel Fermented White, €15). 90% Viura and 10% Malvasia; 6 to 8 months of aging in new French oak barrels. Sharp, mid green gold, light viscosity; green fruit nose, lime, wine lees; soft acids; semi unctuous; round, ripe, fruity finish. 16/90.
- Bodegas Baigorri 2017 Belus (field blend) (€23). 85% Mazuelo, 10% Tempranillo, 5% Garnacha. Selected berries, vibration and selection tables. Oak fermenters, malolactic fermentation, 14 months aging in barrels of 225, 500, 600 liters. Dark purple, viscous; ripe red fruit nose; berries, wood; medium plus acid; full tannins; long hot chewy finish. 16/90.
- Bodegas Baigorri 2017 Garnacha Rioja (€23). 100% Garnacha. As with other wines, manual picking, and individual berry selection, natural extraction by gravity. 14 months in oak. Dark purple, viscous; red and black fruit nose; berries, white pepper; medium plus acids; full tannins; big fruit; Long chewy hot finish. 16/90.
- Bodegas Baigorri 2017 de Garage (€40). 100% Tempranillo, from vines with average age of 65 years. 22 months in French oak. Mid dark garnet, viscous; peppery red fruit nose; sweet oak and berries; medium body; soft acid; medium plus tannins; balanced; long deep red fruit finish; nice style. 16.5-17/91-92.
Finca Valpiedra includes 80 hectares of vineyards on three terraces which slope down to the Ebro River. Grapes are harvested from 15 different plots. The winery has 31 small tanks where the different varieties (Tempranillo, Graciano and Maturana Tinta) from different plots are fermented separately. The winery ages its wines in 2,500 French (90%) and American oak barrels. It produces some 300,000 bottles a year, with 200,000 in its flagship, Cantos de Valpiedra. The modern winery is open for touring by appointment.
- Martinez Bujanda Rioja Cantos de Valpiedra 2018 Crianza, (€10). 100% Tempranllo. Stainless steel fermentation, 12 months in French and American oak barrels. Mid dark garnet; viscous, 13.0 alcohol. Red fruit nose; fresh, floral, berries; medium plus acids, tannins; tight, tannic finish. 16/90.
- Martinez Bujunda Finca Valpiedra Reserva 2015 Calificada (€22). Fermented in stainless steel, 22 months in French oak. Mid dark garnet, ruby edges; viscous, 13.5 alcohol; 92% Tempranillo; red fruit, aromatic, cedar, smokey nose; mid-plus acids and tannins; long red fruit and wood finish, some minerality. 17/92.
- Finca Valpiedra Reserva Blanco 2016 (€53). Viura, Garnacha Blanca, Malvasía and Maturana Blanca. Fermentation and 24 months aging in French and American oak barrels. Dark gold, light viscosity, 12% alcohol. Slightly oxidated nose; old wood; honey; medium acids; long oaky, slightly odd oxidated flavor. 14.5/87.
- Finca Valpiedra Petra de Valpiedra 2018 Calificada (€40). 100% Garnacha. Fermentation in concrete tanks. 28 days maceration. 16 months in used French oak barrels. Mid ruby, ruby edges; 13.5% alcohol. Sweet red fruit nose; hints of wood; medium body, acids and tannins; balanced; good fruit; long, rich wood and mineral finish. 17-17.5/92-93.
Other Notes, Dinners and Lunches
- Muga 2011 Prada Enea Rioja Gran Reserva. $90. Mid-dark; red fruit, wood, peppery, earthy, old world nose; mid acids; mid plus tannin; long rich woody finish. 17/92.
- 2018 Roda Reserva, Rioja. $35. Mid ruby; viscous; bright fruit nose, light wood; mid acids; mid tannins; balanced; good Tempranillo fruit; long wood and berry finish. 17/92.
- 2019 Sierra Cantabria, Coleccion Privada, Rioja. $60. Mid dark ruby, viscous; red fruit nose, peppery cocoa, berries, wood; round ripe balanced finish, hints of wood, nice style. 17/92.
- 2007 Viñedos de Páganos Rioja Gran Reserva El Puntido. Darkest purple, viscous (14.0 alc.), some sediment; ripe grape, red fruit, cedar, tar nose; medium acids; medium-plus tannins; deep red fruit structure; long fruity finish, slightly hot; opens with air. w/grilled meat. 16.5-17/91-92.