Murrieta defends traditional white Rioja14th October, 2013 by Gabriel Savage
Vicente Dalmau, president of Marqués de Murrieta has defended the Viura grape variety and Rioja’s traditional old white wines after they were criticised by French consultant Denis Dubourdieu.
In response to Dubourdieu’s dismissal of Viura as suitable for nothing more ambitious than “everyday wine” and Rioja’s idiosyncratic but widely respected mature white styles as “oxidised”, Dalmau argued that both were often simply misunderstood.
“Viura when it’s young is not attractive – you can’t compare it with Albariño or Verdejo”, he told the drinks business. “That’s why no-one in Rioja produces it except us and Lopez de Heredia.”
However, he added: “When it is old it becomes something unique,” indicating that attitudes towards this grape variety among his fellow Rioja producers “are starting to change.”
Turning to the mature style of Riojan white wine in which Viura plays the dominant role, Dalmau admitted to the challenges involved in such extreme aging. Murrieta is about to bottle its 1986 Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Blanco, which is made from 98% Viura and 2% Malvasia, after 23 years maturation in 40-year-old American oak barrels.
“Sometimes a barrel breaks because it is so old and we lose the wine,” he remarked, noting that this affects as many as “three or four a year.”
Nevertheless, he highlighted the layer of tartrate crystals which forms a protective crust on the inside of the barrel, thereby, Dalmau claimed, preventing a damaging level of oxidation.
Among the modernising efforts of Dalmau since taking over the estate in 1996 has been a shift towards a rather shorter ageing process and the introduction of a proportion of new oak, as illustrated by the Marqués de Murrieta white, which he has renamed Capellanía.
Although the Castillo Ygay style remains alongside this more modern counterpart, Dalmau acknowledged: “It’s the most expensive wine for Marqués de Murrieta and it’s really difficult to sell. This is not a wine for white wine drinkers; it is for red wine drinkers and you need to explain it.”
Nevertheless, he reported a loyal following for the wine in the UK and growing demand from the US in particular. Recalling the initial concern of his US importer, he confirmed: “Now we have a problem with the allocation because sommeliers want this style of wine.”