Meet Your Makers: Marqués de Riscal

If the devil is in the details, then consider the world of white wine production a diabolical minefield. Red wine might get higher scores and more critical acclaim, but Luis Hurtado de Amegaza has this to say about that: “You can produce world-quality red wine in a garage, but for white wine, 20 percent of the quality control should be in your facilities and your technology.”

That’s why if you happen to find yourself moseying through the Marqués de Riscal facilities in Rueda — where Luis serves as technical director — you’ll see state-of-the-art winemaking technology, surgical cleanliness and an intense attention paid to those pesky details that add up in the end.

And while we could focus on the brand-spanking-new sorting machines, de-stemmers and conical fermentation tanks, let’s instead turn back the clock.

Marques de Riscal is a name you’ve likely heard. They’re kind of a big deal, and have become one of the preeminent Spanish wine brands, thanks to their production in places like Rioja. In the 1970s though, they had a hankering for white wine, and Rueda had the intangibles that good businessmen seek out: Promise, potential and all sorts of upside.

You can do everything great, but if you have a bad bottling or filling line, everything can be spoiled at the end

“From the start, we always found Verdejo to be a very interesting varietal,” says Hurtado. “I myself have seen and developed wine in several places across the world — in Australia, France, Chile – and I think it’s one of the great white varieties worldwide, because it gives great results and has a very remarkable versatility.”

Hurtado can’t help but gush about Verdejo. “Of all the wines I’ve worked with, Verdejo is one of the varietals with great consistency in quality,” he says. “And that gives wines with a profile, a very strong personality, and a clearly defined varietal character.”

Flash-forward to the present day, 40-something years after Marqués de Riscal set up shop in the region for the first time. Today — their vines and terroir having long been established — it is technology that Hurtado says helps them set the bar when it comes to quality and consistency.

“You can do everything great, but if you have a bad bottling or filling line, everything can be spoiled at the end,” he explains. “It’s something we have to accept about white wine: Eighty percent of the quality of white wine is the origin of the grape, the age of the vine, the healthiness of the grape. But there’s 20 percent of technology there that’s critical and necessary, while for red wine it’s not that necessary.”

Thanks to their recognition and popularity, the work of Luis and Marqués de Riscal has helped Rueda spread across the world. But their work isn’t done. The more people know about Rueda and Verdejo, the further its reach can go, and Hurtado thinks that, as a whole, Rueda’s got what it takes.

“We are fortunate to have a product that has a very strong personality, which differs greatly from other wines and is hard to copy. I think there Rueda has a significant advantage. We have a wonderful climate, fantastic soils and I think that the varietal is original enough and has enough personality to produce wines that differ greatly from others. And that’s a strong point that has to define Rueda.”

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