Monday, 30 September 2013

Muga - 2009 Reserva - Rioja Alta

Recently I've been enjoying the wines of Rioja, Spain. I was given a couple as birthday gifts and they've been lovely. I like Rioja, it has a smoothness to it that i can't get enough of. When there is fruit, oak and spices gliding along with it, more's the better. These factors come from the aging of the wine after it's made, in oak and in bottle. Wines of Rioja have a quality classification system that determines the required levels of aging after the wine is made. The lesser-aged red wines are known as simply Rioja (Tinto). These may see a few months of oak aging, and then maybe a little bottle aging before release. A little more aging in oak and bottle gives you Crianza. Even more oak aging, something like 18 months or more, plus bottle aging of a similar length, and you have a Reserva. Gran Reserva may have 5 or more years of oak and bottle aging before release! If I'm honest i could look up the exact rules governing aging times, but it's not really needed here, you get the idea. There are, of course, other considerations that contribute to a wine's quality, for example selecting the best grapes. However, the important thing to realise is that the longer the wine is aged (particularly in oak), the better it may become. I think Crianza's make excellent dinner-time wines. They're usually great value, and compliment food really well. Reserva and Gran Reserva Rioja's are a little more special and usually have layers of complexity and flavour that should, perhaps, be enjoyed in isolation. This isn't to say that they won't go with food, I'm sure they'd be great, but I quite like drinking wine for the wine itself, not just to lubricate a meal.

Anyway, I've found myself researching spanish wines in order to find some good examples of quality and typicity. As always, I've been looking for as higher a quality as i can manage, at affordable prices. Interestingly, during my trawling, i happened to find out something i previously didn't know. I didn't realise that the Spanish region of Rioja is itself subjugated into a few sub-regions. The DOC region of Rioja is comprised of (mainly) Rioja Alta, Rioja Alvesa and Rioja Baja. Each of the these regions expresses their own qualities in the red wine they produce. They have slighlty different grape blends and manufacturing processes, as well as slightly different micro-climates and soils in which to grow their grapes.

One particular producer's wine kept cropping up during my initial searches. The wines of Bodegas Muga. Bodega is the term given to a producer, equivilent to Chateau or Domaine, although it actually means wine cellar. In this case the name sort of means, 'the wine cellars of Muga'. Muga is the family name of the owners. I've heard of this producer before, but a friend (Twitter aquaintance) reminded me about it, as he recently went there. I looked in to them a little further and found some great reviews of all their wines. They have a range of wines of increasing quality/price. They make a white Rioja Blanco, some Rose, and a few Reds. The reds are what I was looking for so I stuck with them. They start with the Rioja Enea, move up to Crianza and then a couple of Reservas. There is a normal Reserva and a Seleccion Especial, which is made from the best grapes of that year. Then there is the more special Torre Muga, which is a Reserva, but the grapes are chosen from the oldest and best vines on the estate. Finally there is the Prado Enea Gran Reserva. Again, the finest quality grapes are used, The maceration and fermentation are a little more natural, with less intervention than the other wines, and the wine is aged for the longest, in oak (4 years minimum) and bottle (a further 3 years minimum).

After all that then, I found that the easiest and actually the cheapest stockist was Majestic wines. The more expensive Muga wines had to be ordered on special delivery, however, the Reserva 2009 was in stock at my local store. I decided to pick a couple up, at the extra special, sale price of about £14. Incidently, I am going to be getting a couple of the Seleccion Especial soon also, as I have arranged a #WineSwap through Twitter! (I may write a little post on the #WineSwap phenomenon some time...)

So what was it like?

In a word, Good! I decanted and left it to breathe for about 45 minutes. A small sip straight out of the bottle told me that it was a good thing to do. In the glass it was a lovely full, deep red. No hint of purple at all, slightly maroon, but no real sign of age yet. Good body and fairly alcoholic legs. On the nose, this wine jumps out of the glass at you. The high alcohol adds to the aromaticity and carries notes of sweet cherries. Lighter red fruits may be there, but are hard to pick out. The biggest parts of the nose were vanilla, liquorice and a lovely floral hit of violets. There were also undertones of smoke and spice, maybe cinnamon and cloves. On the palate the youthful tannins came through a little chalky, but certainly not grainy. They actually gave the mouthfeel great texture. There were plums and again cherries present, which were perhaps a little stewed. the middle was pretty well balanced. The acidity was detectable, but was not forward, which meant nothing overpowered the rest. The finish was sweet and mildly spiced with a touch of pepper. It lingered for a good 20 seconds.

In conclusion then, this is a cracking red. On sale it's a good price for a Rioja Reserva. I think it's still young, and although its obviously delicious now, I anticipate it will improve over the next few years. There was a decent dollop of tannins and acidity, but nothing massive. I would say the next 5 or 6 years should do for this vino. After that, it may start to slide downhill.

Bodegas Muga have a website, but I looked briefly and didn't find the English version. I can get by in Spanish so didn't really need it. It does have a translation though, so check it out here, there's a lot of info on their wines, and a bit more. As mentioned, Majestic wines sell a few of the Muga range. Just search here.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Amarone della

It's been a while. I'm afraid I've been busy enjoying myself! The last 2 weekends have been all about the wife and I celebrating entry in to our 4th decade. Our birthdays are 6 days apart, so a normal year is busy. This being our 30th, was even more so. We've been very lucky to have full weekends with both sides of our respective families. This has meant that, although I've drunk some great wines in this time, I have had little time for writing anything about wine at all.

So, to get back in the writing saddle, so to speak, i'll start with a quick wine review.

I was given a bottle of wine last week, not necessarily as a birthday present, but a gift nonetheless. I know little about Italian wines, other than the famous international names likes Barolo, Barbaresco and Chianti, and so hadn't come across this one before. The wine in question was an Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico. The reason for this unexpected gift was actually for my opinion, with the main question being asked; is it worth it?!

So the story goes, a friend of this friend buys 'Amorone' at £40 to £50 a bottle, and raves about it. So having spotted an 'Amarone' in Lidl, at half that price (approximately £20), the friend asks me if it's any good. Now, as described above, I know relatively little about Italian wines, so I decided to do a bit of investigating.

The internet tells me that: Amarone Della Valpolicella is a wine-producing sub-region in Northern Italy. It is part of the larger, classified region of Veneto, surrounding Verona. According to Wikipedia, AdV (as I'll call it for ease) was classified as a DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) in 1990, and upgraded to a DOCG (added Guarantee) in 2009. The Classico addition to the label means that it comes from a smaller, more traditional area, renowned for making this style of wine, and should denote better quality. As can be seen on this particular bottle of wine, it may have been made just before the re-classification to DOCG, as the 'G' is missing from it's title.

So, the 2009 AdV from Tenuta Pule (pictured above), should have been made from grapes that were left to dry, post harvest, in a shed (or similar container/housing). This could have been anything from a couple of weeks, to several months. The purpose of this process is to reduce the water content in the grapes, and therefore concentrate the sugars and the, some might say more important, flavour and aroma compounds also. This should result in a fuller-bodied, concentrated and very aromatic wine, that has a higher-than-normal alcohol level.

Having researched this wine, I was quite excited about trying an AdV for the first time. I like fuller bodied red wines, with pungent noses and fruit-bomb palates, so this sounded right up my street!

Upon opening the bottle, and pouring, the wine actually seemed a little thin-bodied and flat.The initial nose didn't reveal much at all, and the first taste was quite disappointing. I sensed sweetness on the nose, and the alcohol stood out on the palate. At this point, I happened to be chatting to my Dad on the phone, and naively relayed this to him. As it turns out, I should have waited a little longer before judging it. After about half an hour, maybe a little longer, the wine opened-up. I'm normally one for decanting and waiting for wines, so i don't know why I was in such a hurry on this occasion!? The wine developed a quite complex nose, of blackberries, sweet cherries, green peppers, a hint of vanilla, but, most of all, sweet violets! This was actually really lovely. On the palate, the wine had a good texture, medium to full-bodied. The sweet fruit flavours had a jammy quality that I could imagine a lot of people wouldn't like, if they're into lighter reds. I think this wine had a lot of residual sugar, which gives the taste a slightly port-like quality. The finish was fairly long and lingering, with a little of that green pepper spice. In my opinion, the alcohol was a little overpowering on the palate, and in the finish. The balance of soft tannins (not too chewy at all) and acidity was good, but the alcohol dominated. This is an unfortunate downside for this wine. I liked it, but it's not quite there!

Back to the original question, "is it worth it?". Well, I was a little disappointed. I've tasted big Aussie Shiraz, and this AdV didn't have the same concentrated fruit flavours at all, it delivered on the nose (eventually) but not in flavour. I was expecting much more from this wine. I think this was probably down to it's billing, and the research I'd done. Maybe this was wrong of me?! Having said that, £20 is a fair amount to be spending on a bottle of wine. I would say that if you're spending that much per bottle, you want it to be a little bit special. I have plenty of bottles in the cellar, that I would say are better than this AdV, and cost (a little) less than £20! We should also remember that this wine came from Lidl, which, as I understand it, should be providing it's patrons with value, at lower prices!

To conclude then, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this wine. It is perfectly drinkable, and has some excellent points to it when considering the complexity of aromas on the nose. It went particularly well with a rump steak and chips! However, I don't really think it's worth it's supposed price-tag of £20. If I'd bought this for £8-£10, I'd be pretty pleased with myself. I wouldn't feel hard-done-by if I'd have paid £15 for it. £20 though, in my opinion, is a touch too much. I can only assume that the original 'Amarone' that started this mini-saga, which cost over £40, must have been from a different producer. From what I've read, these wines have the potential to be quite exquisite, and also as age-worthy as the best Cabernet from Bordeaux. I hope that I may have the fortune to try one of these some day. But, for now, I shall simply thank my friend for giving me a lovely bottle of wine! To me, it was free, and therefore, was absolutely worth every bit of it!!