So - Is it Old or is it New?
Vicente Dalmau Cebrián-Sagarriga
Herein lies the very particular quandary surrounding Spain and its wine at the moment.
‘Discover’,‘re-discover’, ‘take another look’ are the buzz phrases, which are as unnecessarily baffling as intangibles like ‘where tradition meets modernity’ when used to describe a country that’s been making a variety of different wines since Phoenician times.
Marketing tells us one thing, the history books and rule books quite another. But the wines: Surely they hold the answer?
Of course they do. And, thankfully, so do the people who make them.
In hindsight, Vicente Dalmau Cebrián-Sagarriga was always going to be the ideal person to set the record straight on modernity. Dalmau, the man at the helm of Rioja’s infamous and historic Bodegas Marqués de Murrieta – and current Count of Creixell – charming and gregarious, took to the stage for a thought-provoking masterclass, and it was a pleasure to hear him speak frankly and honestly about the issue of Rioja’s plight in grasping the toro by the horns.
Dalmau is both an engaging speaker and a man with a story to tell. The tale he told Saturday morning’s masterclass was one of legacy, and a determination not to let history get in the way of steering an aggressive course towards being a forerunner in a modern era fixated on experimentation, investment and improvement.
‘Let me tell you,’ he opened. ‘The relationship between wine and family is special. My family and I, we are an agriculture culture.’
And a family with a plan, no less. If Castillo Ygay is the jewel in Murrieta’s crown, then the wines from the 12 hectares it owns in Rias Baixas are the ‘Made in China’ sticker poking out at the back; Initially surprising for an estate that has built its name on a Riojan tradition, yet brilliantly crafted and unquestionably dependable, even after several years.
‘Something unique’ – that’s what Dalmau wanted to produce in Galicia – so, he did, crafting whites as refreshing as the thinking behind them. This is a man who took over the running of the business after his father’s untimely death in 1996, and never looked back.
‘I had to send a message to the market that there was a new captain,’ he said. And so followed the launch of the eponymous Dalmau from Rioja Alta. ‘A Super-Rioja; a modern style of Rioja: I decided to put my name on the wine. It has the stamp of modern Rioja. More alcohol, more fruit.’
But the Murrieta name, with the centuries of tradition attached, means that Dalmau has much to celebrate and protect, and fervently resists being modern for modern’s sake. Indeed when it comes to Rioja’s newly-permitted grape varieties, he doesn’t pull any punches.
‘Two years ago they permitted three more grape varieties. I don’t understand why. I asked them why. I think that a classic tradition like Rioja needs to maintain its roots. Why we need to lose personality? I don’t understand why,’ he said, clearly exasperated at the panicked moves of those pushing Rioja to change its old-fashioned image.
And, by way of a convincer, the masterclass tasting featured as its climax a wine not with super-charged fruit, or a latest release best-seller, but a wine with a glimpse of time gone by with the much-anticipated Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 1978, a wine which still bears resemblance to the most current vintages.
Decanter masterclasses unfailingly deliver the world’s greatest wines and personalities, but very occasionally they tap into a zeitgeist and this was undoubtedly one of those very special occasions.
Perhaps true modernity demands a true sense of where you’ve been, in order to understand where you’re going next. In any case, Murrieta needn’t worry about selling the modern story. The constant between their old and new is sheer quality, and come what may, the future is unlikely to deviate far from it.
Wines that accompanied the masterclass:
• Pazo Barrantes, Rias Baixas 2007
• Pazo Barrantes, Rias Baixas 2010
• Tinto Reserva, Rioja Alta 2007
• Dalmau, Rioja Alta 2007
• Capellanía, Rioja Alta 2007
• Capellanía, Rioja Alta 2004
• Castillo Ygay, Gran Reserva Especial, Rioja Alta 2004
• Castillo Ygay, Gran Reserva Especial, Rioja Alta 2001
• Castillo Ygay Gran Reserval Especial, Rioja Alta 1991 (Magnum)
• Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial, Rioja Alta 1978
Related Spanish Fine Wine Encounter content:
- Video highlights SFWE 2012
- The day in pictures: Vega Sicilia lunch, Grand Tasting room, Murrieta masterclass, La Rioja Alta masterclass and Alvaro Palacios masterclass
- Masterclass write-ups: The Legendary Wines of Bodegas Marqués de Murrieta and Pioneering The New Spain – Alvaro Palacios
Written by John Abbott