A very special bottle of wine: Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial Blanco

This story originally appeared in the Napa Valley Register.

Count Dalmau Cebrián-Sagarriga, the owner of Marques de Murrieta, came to the U.S. recently to present his historical 1986 white Rioja from their estate Castillo Ygay.

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When I was invited to taste the wine, I was intrigued but little did I know what I was about to experience. This was not just the tasting of a 1986 white Rioja but rather a white Rioja that has been in barrel for 26 1/2 years. That is not a typo. It was aged in a barrel for 319 months before being bottled.

Castillo Ygay is one of the labels under Marques de Murrieta, a family-owned business that dates to 1511. Marques de Murrieta’s original property is in Rias Baixes in the northwest of Spain. A small property that totals 75 acres, they produce albariño under two labels: Pazo Barrantes and Le Comtesse.

Then, 40 years ago, Dalmau Cebrián-Sagarriga’s father purchased the property in Rioja. This property consists of 750 contiguous acres in the Alta Rioja. This is the largest estate in Rioja and they are the only winery not purchasing any grapes. In Rioja, there are four labels: Marques de Murrieta, Capellania, Dalmau and Castillo Ygay.

Dalmau Cebrián-Sagarriga began working with his father when he was 15 years old. Based in Madrid, he studied business administration and law but loved wine. Shortly after he finished his studies, at the age of 24, his father passed away.

Cebrián-Sagarriga took over the family business and 20 years later, he is still happy working with wine. He has balanced the old with the new, taking a historic property and updating the winery. The focus is to not only make quality wines, but unique wines, wine with a soul.

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— Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial Blanco 1986

In Rioja, white wine is only five percent of the total production. The Gran Reserva Especial Blanco 1986 is 97 percent viura and 3 percent malvasia. It was fermented in an 18,000-liter American oak barrel. The wine was then aged in wood for 252 months in 225-liter American oak barriques and then 67 months in a concrete tank. The wine was bottled on Jan. 29, 2014 and is now released in December 2016.

Cebrián-Sagarriga explained that is it difficult to age a wine in a barrel for that long, and they are the only winery doing this. But, the winery has been doing this since 1852.

Traditionally in Rioja, wines were bottled as they were sold. A wine from 1852 was bottled after 20 years and it was still good. They have continued the tradition ever since, only in select vintages. To date, Castillo Ygay has released a Gran Reserva Especial Blanco in 1919, 1932, 1940, 1946, 1950, 1962, 1970 and now 1986.

What makes this release even more special is that it is the first Gran Reserva Especial Blanco since Cebrián-Sagarriga’s family purchased the property and the same year that Cebrián-Sagarriga first came to the property with his father.

Currently, the 1998 and 2004 are in barrel but Cebrián-Sagarriga cannot confirm if they will release them after 20 years as there is no guarantee that oxidation or something else will happen.

The Gran Reserva Especial Blanco 1986, valued at $600-$700 per bottle, has already received high praise. The Wine Advocate gave the wine 100 points making it the first white wine of Spain to receive 100 points in the publication. James Suckling also gave the wine 100 points. The wine shows structure and muscle while also elegant with beautiful acidity. It has a long finish with mouthwatering salinity.

Cebrián-Sagarriga describes it “like an old rock star” in that it is an old wine but it is still active and youthful. With only 900 bottles allocated to the U.S. market, this is a wine that will be hard to acquire and but easy to drink, despite having aging potential of another few decades.

As delightful, delicious and exceptional the Gran Reserva Especial Blanco 1986 was to sip, I also enjoyed the other wines of Marques de Murrieta.

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Pazo Barrantes 2015 Albariño, Rias BaixasPazo is Galician for “palace” and on the estate in Rias Baixes, the palace is made of granite. A fresh, young albariño with good structure and acidity and a long finish, it is not the typical style of the region. In the vineyard, Cebrián-Sagarriga does green cutting, dropping close to 50 percent of the fruit. The wine is fermented for 30 days in stainless steel and then spends four months sur lees, resulting in a wine with more body and structure.

Pazo Barrantes La Contesse 2013 Albariño, Rias Baixas – The grapes for this wine are from a small selection on a special, 60-year-old plot. Typically, albariño does not like oak and oak does not like albariño. But Cebrián-Sagarriga spent 15 years trying different barrel sizes from different countries. In the end, he found that 3,000-liter French oak barrels work best for albariño. The grapes are fermented for 50 days and then left in the barrel for one year, with two rackings per year. The resulting wine has an intense fruit nose and the oak is well balanced.

Capellanía Blanco Reserva 2013 Rioja – Capellanía is the name of the plot that this viura comes from. The vines are 90 years old and sit at an altitude of 600 meters. The low yields are pressed and put in new French oak for 16 months. Cebrián-Sagarriga calls this wine a “drug that you cannot stop drinking. It is a gastronomic wine.”

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Marques de Murietta 2011 Rioja – This “entry level” wine makes up 85 percent of the winery’s total production. But it is not a typical “entry level” wine. The wine is a reserva, meaning it has been aged a minimum of two years in barrel and one year in bottle. It is a blend of 80 percent tempranillo, which gives the body and structure, 3 percent garnacha, for color, alcohol and fruit, 6 percent graciano, for tannin, high acid and a fresh nose, and 11 percent mazuelo (carignan) for acidity. The grapes are each vinified separately, fermented in stainless steel and then aged for 20 months in American oak. The juice is blended and spends three to four months in tank. This garnet wine is approachable luxury with silky tannins. As Cebrián-Sagarriga describes, “this is a wine where your palate rests when you taste it.”

Dalmau 2012 Rioja – A blend of 80 percent tempranillo, 5 percent graciano and 15 percent cabernet sauvignon, this wine is named after Cebrián-Sagarriga. While Marques de Murietta is a classic house, this wine is the young, international modern wine with higher alcohol and bigger style.

Castillo Ygay 2007 Rioja – A single vineyard wine, this is the grandest reserve, aged for three years in barrel and another three to four years in bottle. It is 88 percent tempranillo from 75-year-old vines and 12 percent mazuelo (carignan) from 70-year-old vines; the wines are vinified separately. The tempranillo is fermented in stainless steel and aged for three years in American oak. The carignan is fermented in French oak and aged for three years in new French oak.

Once blended, the wine spends a year in concrete and then three years in bottle and is now the current release in the market. The 9-year-old wine is still a garnet color and is complex and elegant.

Castillo Ygay 2005 Rioja – The 2005 is similar to the 2007 with an intense concentration of fruit and full body.

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Read the original story in the Napa Valley Register.

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