In 2000, the family owners of the historic Spanish winery Marqués de Riscal wanted a new look for their Rioja digs and figured they'd ask one of the most accoladed architects of the century if he would help.
"Frank Gehry said, 'I'm sorry, I'm not interested because I've been successful lately ... and your project is very tiny,'" recalled Riscal co-owner José Luis Muguiro with a laugh at the New York Wine Experience. But Muguiro determinedly asked if Gehry might at least stop by Rioja. "I learned he loved ice hockey … so we didn't talk about the project. I learned about all the players of ice hockey!"
Muguiro sealed the deal by opening a bottle from 1929, Gehry's birth year, for him. "He became very emotional and said, 'I cannot say no to the people who opened my birthday wine.'"
Gehry designed the now-iconic Riscal winery, and to mark the occasion, Riscal introduced a new cuvée with the 2001 vintage: the Marqués de Riscal Rioja Frank Gehry Selection Reserva, whose label the architect sketched. The wine has only been made a few times, but no iteration is rarer than the first: The 2001, Muguiro told the crowd, was being tasted for the first time outside of the winery. Of the 120 bottles Riscal still held, 75 were poured at the Wine Experience.
Gehry wasn't the only artisan involved with the wine. Famed late Château Margaux winemaker Paul Pontallier called Muguiro one day, curious to taste World War II vintages of wine—in Bordeaux, many were stolen or destroyed—and became enchanted by the Riscal 1945. He began consulting at Riscal and helped craft this wine, 100% Tempranillo from vines more than 85 years old, aged in American oak and still vibrant after two decades, with cinnamon, mineral and cedar notes.
"Paul Pontallier said wine has to be two words: elegance and finesse," proclaimed Muguiro. "This wine has that."