by Fred McMillin
for May 7, 1999

 

Winery of the Week

The Domecq Trek


Prologue

Marques de Arienzo  
One of my greatest gastronomic memories of Madrid was dining on suckling pig at Casa Botin. The restaurant opened in a deep cellar in 1725. What has that to do with our Winery of the Week, the historic Spanish House of Domecq? Well, also in 1725 an Irish farmer named Patrick Murphy gave up on the Irish climate and moved to Jerez ("hair-reth"), Spain. Let's see what happened.


The Rest of the Story

Patrick switched from potatoes to grapes and brought in a French-born partner whose heir married a man of rare background...French genes, English educated, considerable wealth...named Don Pedro Domecq Lembeye. A visitor to the Domecq "palace" in 1831 found "the vines were treated with greater care" than any he had seen in Spain...carefully trellised, regularly pruned, "not a weed or blade of grass to be seen among them." From this rose the great sherry wines of Domecq.

Now, on to 1973. The firm recognizes that there's a vast table wine market out there. However, as the Wine Spectator put it, the red wines even from Spain's Rioja district, were pale, thin, tired, over-oaked. So they moved into the Rioja district with a 1,253-acre bang. Before too long, the 20,000 oak barrels were producing four million bottles a year. Critic Carlos Delgado describes their line of Marques de Arienzo Riojas as "extremely delicate and well-crafted." If you gave up on Rioja some time in the past because they were "tired and thin," you must try one again...you can get the Crianza (aged in oak) 1994 for only $10 to see what you've been missing.


Just the Facts

U.S.A. Importer—Allied Domecq
Rioja Brand Name—Marques de Arienzo
The Wines—There's a Crianza, about $10, a Reserva for five bucks more, and the flagship Gran Reserva at $25. My panel's consensus is that they are NOT overpriced.
For more info - Director of American Public Relations, Dan Solomon, Phone (707) 433-8268, FAX (707) 433-3538


Postscript

The biggest consumer of Spanish wine when Patrick Murphy arrived at Jerez in the 18th Century? Clue: In Seville alone there were 24 alters serving 400 masses a day, with an estimated consumption of way over one million bottles a year...yes, the monks and friars were the largest purchasers. (See Hugh Johnson's Vintage.)

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 
 

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Welcome to WineDay, the electronic Gourmet Guide's daily update. Monday through Thursday, WineDay presents a wine profile. Then on Fridays we present the Winery of the Week to take you through the weekend.

 

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