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.