Rioja Tour – Miguel Merino and Marques de Riscal

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Friday’s temperature gauge was a little bit cooler as we headed out of Logrono towards the town of Briones. Briones is the home to the amazing Vivanco wine museum which is well worth a trip. However, our destination was the tiny boutique bodega of Miguel Merino. Founded in 1994, this is one of the newest and smallest bodegas in Rioja. Miguel is a truly delightful, charming, funny and engaging man and it was a real privilege and pleasure to spend time with him. Despite the fact that he had recently endured vocal cord surgery and could barely whisper, his humour and passion for wine was infectious. He makes 40,000 bottles a year so the winery visit does not take long, but we learnt a lot about the innovative money saving techniques he employed in the early years (such as wrapping steel vats in wet towels to cool them down!) as well as his bespoke part French/part American oak barriques.

The wines were absolutely superb. Miguel has established a fantastic reputation and this was confirmed later in the day when to talking some restaurant owners who could only say “Que Hombre!” What a guy!

First up was a 100% Mazuelo Rioja (or Carignan in France). Pure Mazuelos are very rare so this was a great opportunity for everyone to experience. Reserva 2010, Gran Reserva 2009 and a very special Reserva 1998 were all 100% Tempranillo and beautifully made – full of fruit, well balanced and harmonious.

This was a truly memorable visit and everyone will remember Miguel Merino with great affection.  

From Briones, it was a 20 minute hop to El Ciego and the hallowed winery of Marques de Riscal – one of the most famous bodegas in all of Spain. As you arrive on the road to the town you are greeted by the extraordinary of the Frank Gehry designed 5* hotel complex that Riscal have built around the winery. Three restaurants, one of which has a Michelin star, 400 euro per night rooms and a grape and vine inspired health spa – this was serious bling!

And this is where we were headed….The Tradition 1860 restaurant is on the second floor of this incredible complex with great views of the town. A truly magnificent lunch ensued: goat’s cheese terrine, delicious croquetas, red peppers with egg yolk, a really clever vegetable broth, battered hake, slow cooked veal cheeks and a wonderful cheese, apple and honey ice cream dessert. All washed down with Sauvignon Blanc, Arienzo crianza and Gran Reserva 2007.

Despite being stuffed senseless, most of us managed to take the tour of the winery and it was well worth it. Fascinating history, a great combination of old cellars and modern technology and a Verdejo 2016 and Reserva 2010 to finish.

A day of quite deliberate contrast and truly memorable.