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For more than 150 years, Marqués de Murrieta has been a traditional Rioja giant. Murrieta’s founder, Don Luciano de Murrieta, essentially created Rioja as it is known today. Until he started his firm in 1852, Rioja was primitively made and short-lived.
The visionary Murrieta changed all of that. He spent four years in Bordeaux studying winemaking, where he learned to destem the fruit, ferment in oak vats and, most importantly, age in 225-liter oak barricas.
Convinced of Rioja’s unfulfilled potential, he applied the same methods to the fruit from the Ygay estate belonging to his benefactor, General Baldomero Espartero.
The result was the first great, long-keeping Rioja, 50 barrels of which were exported to Havana. Marqués de Murrieta’s fame spread rapidly and the archetype for noble Rioja was born.
The bodega came into its own, however, with Don Luciano becoming titled as Marqués de Murrieta by King Amadeo I, which gave him the means to acquire the Finca Ygay in 1878, providing complete control over the quality of his wine from vineyard to bottle.
Finca Ygay is located in the heart of Rioja near Logroño, where the three sub-region’s of Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja meet. As a result, its limestone, sand and gravel slopes produce rich fruit of great complexity and structure with the concentration to benefit from long aging in barrica.
Murrieta immediately began to build the facilities to increase the quality of his production, from winemaking to long aging in barrel, and the timing couldn’t have been better to make the most of it.
Bordeaux was reeling from the phylloxera crisis, making France in great need of fine wine to fill the void, and Spain’s Northern Railway had been extended from Haro through Logroño to Alfaro, providing a vital means for transportation of Murrieta’s wines to market.
And the richness allied with complexity of Ygay’s Logroño fruit—primarily Tempranillo supported by the structured, highly-aromatic Mazuela, both from old vines—has proven over time to produce one of the greatest Riojas, the heroic Castello Ygay Gran Reserva Especial.
What Don Luciano discovered at Ygay was that the fruit from this special terroir benefitted from virtually indefinite aging in barrica. This meant no standard release date for the Reserva Especial, becoming available to customers only when deemed “ready.”
Today, Marqués de Murrieta, under the direction of Vicente Dalmau Cebrian-Saggariga, honors the legacy of Don Luciano, continuing to make Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial by methods little changed from those of the past.
In fact, Cebrian-Saggariga, working with long-time winemaker María Vargas, aged the mythic 1978 Gran Reserva Especial for an incredible 18 years in barrel and 10 in bottle before deciding it was ready for the public to enjoy.
The results can be mindblowing—packed with fruit, with the exotic oak overtones that are a hallmark of perfectly aged traditional Rioja. Exquisitely balanced, with seamless tannins, fantastic complexity and a richness all its own, it more than fulfills Don Luciano’s dream from so long ago.
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