2018 Platinum List Focus: Marqués de Riscal
A stunning hotel and Michelin-starred dining program enhance a visit to the City of Wine in Spain’s Rioja region
For centuries, visitors to the golden-toned medieval town Elciego, in the southern part of Spain’s Basque Country, have marveled at the Church of San Andrés, begun in the 16th century and mixing Gothic and neoclassical styles, and the 18th-century hermitage of the Virgen de la Plaza. In 2006, another, contrasting architectural marvel joined their ranks: the Hotel Marqués de Riscal, a dramatic structure of wavy titanium panels nestled among the region’s vineyards and designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Frank Gehry, whose Guggenheim Museum had transformed nearby Bilbao. With changing hues from pink to burgundy, the building reflects the colors of the wines of the Rioja region. Frequent guest Raúl De Molina—an Emmy-winning television host on Univision and wine connoisseur—calls the Marqués de Riscal “the most beautiful hotel in a vineyard anywhere in the world. This building turned La Rioja into an architectural destination.” Alison Taylor, Platinum List expert and American Airlines’ senior vice president of global sales and distribution, agrees, calling it “a wonderful winery and design hotel.”
Chef Francis Paniego, who created the menus at the hotel, believes “destiny” is the reason why Rioja is today an international tourism destination. “Believe it or not, 12 years ago the area’s wineries didn’t allow visitors, until Alejandro Aznar [the president of Marqués de Riscal] had the vision to engage Frank Gehry to build the hotel. Being on the board of the Guggenheim in Bilbao, he recognized the effect the building—more than the actual museum—had on the city.”
Adds hotel general manager Stefan Friedl, “Aznar thought it would be nice to build a modern château with four spacious apartments for the owners, along with a lounge and bar, but as the plans progressed, he changed his mind, and realized that it was best to make this a spectacular hotel.” The owners decided to redecorate for themselves the old Casa de la Bodega, where the mayordomos used to live, and the now Gehry building, which would have been their château, is the main hotel, housing 14 asymmetrical guest rooms and suites, with views of the ancient town of Elciego as well as Paniego’s Michelin-starred restaurant, lounge and bars. A bridge leads to an additional wing featuring ultra-spacious rooms overlooking the vineyards, as well as the Vinothérapie Spa by Caudalie, where red-wine-based treatments, rituals and cures are personalized.
The hotel is part of the larger City of Wine, incorporating the historic cellars of Marqués de Riscal, the region’s oldest winery, which has produced award-winning vintages since the 19th century. After touring the property and learning about production, visitors sample two selections along with chorizo
With a proven track record at his two-Michelin-star El Portal de Echaurren restaurant in Ezcaray, Paniego was hired as a consultant in charge of the signature Marqués de Riscal restaurant, the more casual 1860 Tradición, the bars and the in-room experience. Paniego admits he was reluctant at first: “I started with doubts, but these 12 years have been the best of my life.” In the main restaurant, the menu offers a choice of “21 ideas” or “14 ideas,” the number referring to the amount of plates or bites served in a sequence, which can include versions of a classic like patata Riojana, a potato in a stew of chorizo reinterpreted as a light potato churro with Riojana flavors. A dish called Fresh Grass—described as eating the mountain meadows on the border with France—is in reality an oyster leaf (a plant with a taste reminiscent of an oyster) with a cream of curry, dusted with quick-frozen foie-gras powder and fine tarragon. A carpaccio of red prawns arrives with poached sweet onions and red-wine caviar, while asparagus are cooked at low temperature and dressed in a mayonnaise of perrechico, the seasonal and sought-out golden mushroom of the Basque Country, and a dollop of Iranian imperial caviar. Hake cheeks come over a vanilla-scented cream, with potato, garlic and an “air” of hot guindilla pepper Riojana that “kisses the cheeks.” A fine cinnamon ganache cake, mulled wine and peach granita—an elegant relative of sangria—perfectly seal an evening at Marqués de Riscal.