When his father died unexpectedly in 1996, 24-year-old Vicente Dalmau Cebrián-Sagarriga suddenly found himself at the helm of Rioja's storied Marqués de Murrieta. Though he was, in his own words, far too young to take on such a responsibility, he has spent the past 20 years working to restore the bodega to its former glory.
Wine Spectator executive editor Thomas Matthews likened Cebrián-Sagarriga to Corinne Mentzelopoulos and Marcel Guigal, who also took over celebrated wineries at young ages. Matthews commended Cebrián-Sagarriga for his dedication to preserving Marqués de Murrieta's noble history and for his humility in doing so.
That humility—along with some humor—showed when Cebrián-Sagarriga elicited belly laughs from the audience as he first apologized for his early-morning English skills and then ribbed Matthews for taking up three of his allotted 15 minutes to speak.
His love for Marqués de Murrieta shone through as he spoke of its history, from when Luciano de Murrieta built Murrieta's headquarters, Castillo de Ygay, in 1852, to when Cebrián-Sagarriga's father, also named Vicente, bought the neglected bodega in 1983.
Though he has introduced countless improvements at Marqués de Murrieta, Cebrián-Sagarriga chose to bring a wine grown a decade before he took charge. The Rioja White Castillo Ygay Gran Riserva Especial 1986, made when Cebrián-Sagarriga was 14 years old and his father had owned the winery for just three years, is one of only 13 white Castillo Ygay vintages since the winery's founding. Its rareness was, surprisingly, not the most notable thing about the wine.
"It was matured for—and you're going to think I'm wrong—252 months in oak," he said. When the audience tittered, he quipped, "Don't think we forgot it" in the cellar. After 21 years in American oak barrels, the wine was transferred to a concrete tank to mature for an additional 67 months, until about 675 cases were finally bottled in January 2014.
This was the first-ever public tasting of the wine, Cebrián-Sagarriga announced, and it would be released for sale the following week.
"I'm sure you think I'm crazy," he joked as the audience tasted the powerful blend of Viura and a tiny bit of Malvasia, which he likened to "an old rock star." Its remarkable balance between maturity and youthful vitality illustrated how well Rioja's top whites can age. "I'm crazy but I'm happy. And I'm happy because, after my father's death, I've been able to continue with the philosophy, the culture, the meaning of Marqués de Murrieta."