Marqués de Riscal is one of the oldest wineries in Spain and one of the most famous producers of Rioja wine. The winery was founded in 1858 and in 1895 it became the first non-French winery awarded a special prize in the Bordeaux Wine Exhibition. Since then, Marqués de Riscal has kept getting new recognitions. In 2013, it was awarded Best European Winery by the prestigious magazine Wine Enthusiast. Marqués de Riscal winery today produces white, rose and red wine from two different Denominaciones de Origen (the Spanish name for protected designation of origin): Rioja and Rueda. Marqués de Riscal Rioja wines are mostly red and rose whereas Rueda wines are mostly white.
Its ability to combine innovation and tradition is one of the main reasons for the success of Marqués de Riscal all over the world. In the 19th century, Marqués de Riscal managed to introduce the new production techniques developed in France while keeping and improving the traditional features of wine from Rioja. More than one century later, they still have this gift. Marqués de Riscal was one of the first wineries in the world to merge wine and tourism and banked on this new concept with the Ciudad del Vino project: a place where production, culture, learning and leisure are combined. The core building in this new city had to be a new and modern hotel and renowned Canadian architect Frank Gehry, preceded by the great success of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, was in charge of its design.
Marqués de Riscal Hotel: the chateau of the XXIst century
In keeping with the spirit of Marqués de Riscal, Gehry presented an innovative design. The different colors and rounded shapes of the hotel contrast now with the surrounding landscape and with the traditional buildings of the nineteenth century. The architect wanted to infuse his work with the signature colours of Marqués de Riscal: red for the wine, gold like the mesh on the Riscal bottles and silver like the capsule of the top of the bottle. These bands of titanium wrap around the building and reinforce the contrast with the vineyard and the other buildings made from sandstone or wood. It’s a futurist structure in the middle of the Spanish countryside where wine has been produced since from, at least, the eight century.
Before accepting the assignment, architect Frank Gehry decided to visit the winery, and a few months later, he spent a whole weekend there. When Riscal and Gehry were signing the contract, the winery gave the architect a few bottles of Marqués de Riscal since 1929, the year Gehry was born. These bottles were very rare but Frank Gehry shared the wine with the people who were at the winery with him that day.
Gehry strongly committed to the Ciudad del Vino project, even though he had never designed a winery before. The Spanish company IDOM, which had already worked with Gehry on the Guggenheim Museum, became the study partner in architecture.
Nowadays, Marqués de Riscal even named one of its wines, Frank Gehry Selection 2001, made from tempranillo grapes, as a gesture of appreciation to the Canadian architect.
La Ciudad del Vino – the City of Wine
The Ciudad del Vino was conceived as the meeting point of production, culture, tourism, gastronomy and luxury. Visits to the winery, where you can learn the most traditional and the newest production techniques and wine tastings, are organized on a regular basis. The complex is close to the little medieval village of Eltziego and surrounded by a large extension of vineyards and small hills with the majestic Cantabrian mountain range as a backdrop.
There are two restaurants: the Marqués de Riscal Restaurant and Bistro 1860. They represent the perfect pairing of tradition and the avant-garde. Francis Paniego, a Riojan chef who’s proud of being the first in the region to be awarded a Michelin star for his culinary work at the Echaurren Restaurant is the gastronomic consultant to both these restaurants. Marqués de Riscal Restaurant speciality is innovative cuisine, blending the Riojan traditions with creating original and groundbreaking dishes. In order to find the perfect wine match, the restaurant’s sommelier will help with his expert advice. Bistro 1860, however, is a more traditional restaurant and ideal to taste Riojan and Basque specialties. There is also a shop where visitors can buy the wines they have been trying during their stay.
The Spa Vinotherapie is the ideal place to relax and enjoy the great properties that grapes have for both health and beauty. There are a lot of different treatments available in the luxurious facilities of the Marqués de Riscal Hotel.
There are several interesting places near the Marqués de Riscal winery. First of all, this winery is in one of the most famous wine regions in the world: La Rioja. There are several routes to visit some of the most famous wineries in this region. Lonely Planet says that wine routes in La Rioja are one of the top experiences in Spain.
San Millán Monastery is a good option for history lovers. This Monastery was founded during the visigothic rule in the Iberian Peninsula and it is has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1997. It is one of the most famous in Spain because it is said to be the birthplace of the written and spoken Spanish language. The first Spanish texts were written in San Millán during the eleventh century and the first known writer in Spanish language, Gonzalo de Berceo, was born and lived close to San Millán.
The Basque cities of Vitoria and Bilbao are not far from Marqués de Riscal winery. Vitoria is the capital of the Basque country and the old town of the city is really well preserved. Best–selling writer Ken Follet was inspired by Vitoria’s cathedral to write one of its most famous novel: The Pillars of the Earth. Bilbao is one of the most dynamic cities in Spain, home to the Guggenheim Museum, which was also designed by Frank Gehry. It is the cities most famous monument and a symbol of the modern Bilbao. There are some other places to visit like the old town and the Teatro Arriaga. Pintxos and Txacolí are a must in a visit to Bilbao. Pintxos is the name of the Basque tapas and Txacolí is a Basque white wine, produced in a region close to Bilbao. Basque cuisine is world famous and some of the best Spanish chefs are Basques, such as Arzak and Berasetegui.
Picture: Wojtek Gurak (Foter/Flickr)