Marques de Murrieta 1925 is a legend because…
Marques de Murrieta, established by Luciano de Murrieta y Garcia-Lemoine in 1852, was the first Rioja estate to export its wines. Garcia-Lemoine bought the Ygay vineyard and built the castle of the same name. The Ygay wines became renowned for their elegance and longevity. The Gran Reserva Especial is only produced in outstanding vintages. The former King of Spain Juan Carlos I, who abdicated in June 2014, often chose Ygay wines to mark major events in his life, and this 1925 Gran Reserva Especial was selected for presentation on he day he passed the crown to his son Felipe VI.
In 1925 the estate was still owned by the Murrieta family – it was bought by current owner Vincente Cabrián, the Conde de Creixel, in 1983. French wines were still the models for the finest Riojas, although no French estate would have contemplated the decades-long barrel-ageing characteristic of the most traditional Rioja estates. Even at Ygay, this lengthy barrel-ageing period began to be reduced from the end of the 1950s, and the 1925 represents a style of winemaking that is unlikely ever to be practised again. (Indeed, the 1917 Gran Reserva Especial spent 45 years in barrel.) Nonetheless the Cabrián family seeks to maintain the character and quality of the top Ygay bottlings without asking that consumers wait half a century before enjoying them.
Curiously, 1925, unlike 1924, was not rated an outstanding vintage in Rioja, but produced exceptional quality at Ygay. The rainfall was no more than 400mm that year.
The vineyard sits at 485m altitude, at the southern end of Rioja Alta, close to the boundary with Rioja Baja. The total estate is 300 hectares, but the historic Ygay vineyard is smaller and today has 80-year-old vines. Its terroir is characterised by large, reddish stones. The vineyards of Rioja, and its wines, are today dominated by Tempranillo, so it’s interesting that this celebrated vineyard was planted with a wide range of local varieties – with Tempranillo in the majority but still representing only half the blend. By the 1980s Tempranillo would account for almost 80% of the blend. In 1925 it is likely that the wine would have been a selection of the best lots. More recent vintages have been sourced from specific plots that, in the words of the Murrieta winemaker, give ‘the most elegance, purity, longevity, complexity and depth’.
After harvest the grapes were fermented for 13 days in American oak vats, and the new wine remained here for a further eight months. It was then transferred to fairly new American oak barrels, where it stayed for five years. The wine was then moved into older barrels, neutralised by tartaric acid deposits on the inside, and aged for an astonishing 32 years more, before being bottled in 1964. Even at this stage the wine was not considered ready, and was given considerable bottle age before finally coming onto the market in 1973. Its longevity is partly explained by its high acidity and a pH of 2.96, a figure more commonly associated with a racy white wine.
A decade ago, Spanish wine expert Jesús Barquin found the wine ‘delicious and appearing much younger, fruitier and tighter than anyone would expect from a wine of this age’. In 2013 an overexcited but appreciative Jeff Leve recorded: ‘Served double blind, I was willing to bet it was a 1947 Right Bank Bordeaux, due to its insane, jammy, liqueur, VA, earthy, floral, liquorice, truffle, brown sugar, ripe, riper and overripe berry, plum, fig and raisin profile. It was definitely among the most incredible wines I have ever tasted – exotic, sexy and decadent in all the right ways, finishing with sensuous, pure, cherry liqueur flavours.’