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.”