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A visit to Marqués de Riscal’s City of Wine is a walk through the history of Rioja. From the original winery built in 1858 to the spectacular Hotel Marqués de Riscal, designed by the renowned Canadian architect Frank O. Gehry, it’s no surprise that the 100,000 square meter City of Wine was the 2016 winner of an international ‘Best Of Wine Tourism’ award in the Art & Culture category.
The visit includes a tour of the 1858 winery where bottles from rare vintages dating back to the mid-19th century are carefully stored. From time to time Riscal organizes historical tastings. The cellarmaster opens the old bottles with red-hot tongs to remove the neck without damaging the corks.
The 'sacristy', where Riscal stores historic vintages dating back to the mid-1800s
The first expansion of the winery took place in 1883. Here, the visit focuses on how wines were vinified in the 19th and early 20th century in large wooden vats raised off the floor of the cellar, where putting warm coals under the vats started fermentation in cold weather. Time after time, you can appreciate how ingenuity overcame the lack of technology.
Riscal was the first winery in Rioja to adopt winemaking techniques from Bordeaux under the guidance of the maître de chai Jean Pineau, who left Château Lanessan in the Médoc to join the project created by Guillermo Hurtado de Amézaga and his son Camilo. The 1883 winery features a barrel aging cellar built by stonemasons from Galicia in northwestern Spain.
Winemaking at Marqués de Riscal is much more than wooden vats and old stone aging cellars, although some time honored techniques like the gentle pressing of grapes in vertical wooden presses are still in use. An ultramodern vinification plant and cask aging cellar was recently built to handle the increase in sales of Riscal’s wines.
The vinification plant in the 1883 cellar
The visit ends with a tasting in the tasting room located next to a well-stocked shop where visitors can buy all the products made by the group as well as souvenirs, books and other branded merchandise.
The Marqués de Riscal hotel features 43 rooms and suites as well as a wine bar and two restaurants. The one Michelin-starred Marqués de Riscal restaurant under the guidance of Riojan chef Francis Paniego features a seasonal selection of gourmet specialties and a selection of over two hundred Spanish and international wines. The Bistro 1880 Tradition offers a range of local cuisine prepared by Paniego and his team.
The winery and hotel complex is surrounded by a sea of vineyards that completes the image of a true ‘city’ of wine.
the Marqués de Riscal Hotel, designed by Frank O. Gehry
Vinos de los Herederos del Marqués Riscal and Hotel Marqués de Riscal
01340 Elciego (Álava)
Tel. +34 945 180880
Text: Tom Perry
Photos courtesy of Marqués de Riscal