Recently, in the name of the International Society for the Preservation and Enjoyment of Vermut, I made an excursion to one of our favorite vermouth makers, Bodegas Martínez Lacuesta. Founded in 1895 by Félix Martínez Lacuesta, it is one of only three Rioja bodegas that were started in the family and are still totally run by the family. When it was founded, the focus was red wine, as is to be expected in this famous region. At ISPEV, however, we are friends with Luis Lacuesta, one of the latest generation of the bodega who is responsible for the modern day Lacuesta vermouth.
The addition to the product line was welcome, but in the middle of the century the bodega ceased production. The generations continued churning out high quality Rioja reds, but Luis Lacuesta had an idea in the back of his mind. He wanted to bring the vermouth tradition back. When the operations were handed over to him, he put the process in motion, and in 2006 started testing and perfecting the old Lacuesta recipe.
This move turned out to be quite prescient—it positioned Martínez Lacuesta perfectly for the current vermouth boom.
In the vermouth world, there could be said to be two types of vermouth. There are those that are flavored with extracts of herbs, drop by drop, to achieve a certain taste. This is considered cheating by many folks, considered to be a shortcut, a deviation from artisanality. Which is a word I just created. The second type of vermouth is the one made by macerating fresh or dried herbs in one of the vermouth components, be it the wine, the fortifying liquor, or even the sweetening agent. This is Lacuesta’s secret.
The Lacuesta bodega was previously located smack dab in the middle of Haro, which, as you can imagine was very picturesque—and very bad for business. So, about five years ago, the family sold the restrictively small property and constructed a new bodega from scratch. The construction coincided with the financial recession in Spain and dragged out over 26 months.
But now they have a beautiful space to show off (highly recommend a tour ending with a lunch in the secret dining room...), which Luis graciously offered to take us around.
Lacuesta currently has three vermouths: Rojo, Reserva, Gran Reserva and Acacia. In May, they will launch their new white vermouth, which Luis told us has been nearly a year’s worth of experimenting and perfecting in the making. The first attempts were too sweet and yellowed in the bottle, taking on aspects of a Moscatel. The final version is more in line with the standard of quality that Lacuesta is used to, made with herbs cold-macerated for nearly two months.
Lacuesta macerates its red vermouth base, “la conzia”, for an amazing three years, with a selection of 24 herbs, which are on display in the bodega. Luis isn’t afraid to share the ingredients—he is convinced, and rightly so, that the other factors in the vermouth process are more important than which herbs they use, factors such as quantity, time, barrels, wine, etc. The macerated mixture is then added to wine, citric acid, caramel and a fortifying alcohol. The white vermouth has a varying list of herbs and no caramel added.
The bodega is huge— one of the biggest in Rioja with 75,960 barrels. A sleek wooden balcony looks out over it all, but it’s not for safety monitoring or for Luis to have existential look-at-my-kingdom moments. Low benches with white cushions are strategically placed to make this spot an ideal chill-out zone for bodega events, which are hosted nearly every month.
After the bodega tour with Luis, we were led to our private lunch session with the maestro himself!
Chit chat about history, Rioja gossip, and vermouth across the world ensued, overlooking some of the vines. Like any good Riojan lunch, it included a tomato-y sauce with a slight peppery kick, which Luis would not allow us to call a la riojana, because in the Rioja, it’s just sauce.
I wish we could say this was the wine Luis opened for us. But that would just be the too-perfect end to an already so-perfect day.
Can't thank Luis and his family at Bodegas Martínez Lacuesta enough for their hospitality and endless support! Also can't wait to drink the sweet limited edition Felix Martínez bottle of red we picked up....