Text & Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
I was wined out.
Visiting two or three wineries a day beats 9-to-5 at the office, no doubt. But after listening to one winemaker after another try to convince me that his wine was “unlike any other,” and after hearing about the same essential steps of the winemaking process over and over again, I was feeling a lot like I feel on a tour of European cathedrals: I appreciate them and acknowledge their beauty and the craftsmanship that made them, but I can’t hear about more than one a day.
So by the time I rolled into the “Ciudad del Vino” (“City of Wine”) created by the Marques de Riscal Winery in the town of Elciego in Spain’s Basque Country, I had mentally checked out. I’d walk the walk and the guide would talk the talk.
And that, of course, is precisely when things got interesting.
Marques de Riscal is a don among Basque Country’s wine producers; its 150+ year history and its money allow it to do big things.
Like build a mini city, “Ciudad de Vino” (“City of Wine”) on its property.
Like hire world-renowned architect Frank Gehry to design a glimmering, undulating boutique hotel on its property, right next to a vineyard.
Like maintain Bodega 1860, the world’s second most important wine collection.
The Ciudad de Vino was quiet and beautiful. The hotel was, too (for an incredible view of the town, go to the roof terrace, just off the dining room of the hotel’s restaurant).
But Bodega 1860 was a stunner.
Bodega 1860 isn’t open to the public and isn’t included on the standard winery tour. Something got into the guide that made him want to show off the bodega, and so down we went, into the farthest reaches of Marques de Riscal’s cellar, to see the 129,000 bottles in their reserve wine room.
Trusted is the man who holds the keys to the Bodega 1860 kingdom. What’s in there is worth a lot of money (exactly how much, he declined to say). There are bottles for every vintage since 1862. Only six bottles of that year remain, and the last time an 1862 bottle was opened was 1991. “We probably won’t open another,” the guide said soberly.
The winery kept producing straight through Spain’s Civil War (1936-1939), so there are bottles from those years, too.*
Who gets to drink the vintages stored in Bodega 1860?
Very.important.people, of course.
When Marques de Riscal honchos were trying to woo Gehry to build the hotel, they opened two bottles of 1929, the year of his birth. Political and religious leaders have also been treated to bottles from Bodega 1860. The closest we commoners can get to classic vintages is in the hotel’s restaurant; the oldest bottles it serves are 1945, 1948, 1950, and 1958.
Keep an eye on FOX News Latino to read more about Marques de Riscal. This week, I’m working on a piece about Basque Country’s winery hotels, and Gehry’s Marques de Riscal hotel has made the cut.
*There have got to be some interesting stories worth unearthing there.