A Wine Getaway to Spain

An extravagant all-expense-paid trip to the legendary Marqués de Riscal hotel and winery would be a thrill for the worldliest wine traveler. But to Matthew Walsh, grand prizewinner of the Wine Enthusiast City of Wine Sweepstakes, this journey to the heart of Spain’s Rioja region was something even more profound: It was a revelation.


“It was my first time going abroad,” Walsh states, “and that first moment coming around the hillside into the town of Elciego, suddenly seeing the church, then the extraordinary Frank Gehry hotel with the mountains in the background; that was a remarkable first glimpse of Europe.” Even before this trip Walsh and his wife Jenna had been knowledgeable wine lovers: They’d traversed their home region of south central Pennsylvania to expand their knowledge, and Matthew had the rare opportunity to take a wine appreciation course in college. Yet even after spending the last six months preparing for this expedition by reading all they could about Marqués de Riscal and Rioja, “seeing it in person had a whole different effect on us,” Walsh admits.

The individual attention extended by the winery staff enhanced their experience immeasurably, Walsh notes, as “the one-on-one tour of the facility gave us a chance to feel personally involved.” This is one of the oldest wineries in the region, founded in 1858, they learned, and Matthew recalls a justifiable awe on seeing wine caves with bottles dating from the 1800s, unlabeled, he realized, because after 150 years, the wine was well preserved but the labels had disintegrated long ago.


The hotel’s exceptional architecture was especially intriguing to this couple, both with backgrounds in interior design. They appreciated the complexities of creating rooms with varying dimensions, and found the restaurant’s slanted walls and high windows framing the mountains further enhanced the kitchen’s imaginative food and wine. This erudite pair took special note of the Marqués de Riscal labels, and were particularly impressed with the Finca Torrea design, which Matthew describes as “an abstract bird’s-eye view of more than a dozen vineyard plots,” for him, “an atmospheric geometry that conveys the scope of the vineyard’s history.”

foodAmidst this all-around sensory awakening, perhaps it’s no surprise that the Walshes recall the most powerful moment of their trip as a point where wine, food and atmosphere combined to create a compelling synergy: “It was the second day at lunch,” Matthew remembers, when the Finca Torrea was paired with a rustic bean and chorizo sausage stew. “The way the surroundings, the food and this rich red wine blended together heightening the textures and flavors was an exceptional experience.”

Now that they have returned, Mathew realizes that this journey has shaped lasting memories. “There’s a lot of wine knowledge out there and there’s so much to know,” he acknowledges. “You can read a little here and there and get new information each time, but often it’s not until a month down the road that things start clicking.” So now Matthew and Jenna Walsh intend to expand their wine knowledge even further, by “delving into winemaking and perhaps even viticulture,” Matthew declares. For these Wine Enthusiast City of Wine Sweepstakes winners, those five extraordinary days may be the start of an exciting new journey on the wine road.


Published on December 9, 2016