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This is Muga's modern expression of Rioja: the style aims for fruit concentration and elegance, using Bordeaux winemaking philosophy (using 100% new French oak and ageing for 15-18 months). The 2014 is polished, flamboyant and punchy with cedary, cassis fruit.
Product Code: SP13721
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Muga, the most traditional of Rioja’s bodegas, with not a stainless steel tank in sight, is based in the old railway quarter of Haro, capital of Rioja Alta. Founded in 1932 by Isaac Muga Marínez and his wife Auro Caño, both from winemaking families, it is run today by their three sons. Winemaker Jorge Muga leads from the front with his meticulous attention to detail in all areas of production. The cellars not only include the usual fermentation and ageing rooms but also an in-house cooperage which makes the barrels, from a variety of oak sources, which are so key to the Muga style. At any given time, there are some 17 thousand barrels here, of which around 60% are French – mainly Allier and Tronçais – while the rest are made from American oak shipped from Kentucky and Ohio. Whatever its origins, it is all air-dried here for two years before being profiled, compressed, shaped and toasted by the Muga coopering team. Visiting tastebuds will limber up, in preparation for the bodega’s classic reds, with a refreshing modern white or mouth-watering rosado. Muga Blanco is a creamy 90% viura with 10% malvasia, three months in Allier barrels giving just a subtle dash of oak. Muga Rosado, harvested from specific plots is a saigneé blend of grenache, viura and tempranillo – is fermented in small wooden vats. The reds are overwhelmingly tempranillo-based, deriving additional complexity from smaller amounts of garnacha, mazuelo (aka carignan) and graciano to complete the house style. Even a fairly straightforward crianza from Muga can take 3 years to evolve and can easily last for a decade. Reserva wines and Reserva Selección Especial, made from roughly similar blends of around 75% tempranillo, with garnacha, graciano and, mazuelo but using older vines and loner ageing for the latter, display classic mellow rounded characters but retain a rich fruit quality and structure. They hit their stride in 4-5 years and can last for twenty, The Gran Reserva, Prado Enea, with around 80% tempranillo is an impressive, traditionally-framed Rioja which is understated yet intensely flavoured from its extended period of cask ageing, and three years in bottle. Approachable at ten years of age it lasts, says Juan Muga, grandson of the founder, “forever”. Muga also produces two high-profile wines in the Alta Expression category – a new-wave interpretation of Rioja (“at its highest expression”) made in a glossy, non-traditional style with no regard for the usual rules of engagement on, for example, ageing. This development, as topical in Rioja as the outbreak of cutting-edge, architect-designed winery buildings, is a move to secure the attention of American über-critics hitherto unmoved by the region’s classic offerings and to use the resultant “Parker Points” and Wine Spectator world rankings to raise the profile of the traditional wines in the USA. Torre de Muga, of which 50,000 bottles are made has 75% tempranillo with mazuelo and graciano in support, and two years in wood, of which 18 months are Allier barrels, followed by a year in bottle. Áro Muga is the result of draconian selection, from very old vines, including 30% graciano, also aged for 24 months in barrel, 18 of them in new Tronçais barriques, and at least 12 months in bottle. Only 5000 bottles are made. Not surprisingly, it carries a hefty price tag, is half the battle in this particular war.
Rioja sits shielded in northern Spain between the mountain ranges of the Sierra de Cantabria to the north and the Sierra de la Demanda to the south. Both of these rocky ranges play their part in creating a suitable climate for the production of fine wines, shielding the region from cold winds from the Atlantic and hot winds from the Mediterranean.Rioja is split into three sub-regions, Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja. Rioja Alavesa – Bounded in the north by the craggy Sierra de la Cantabria and in the south by the Ebro river, and sitting in the foothills of the former, Rioja Alavesa feels a distinct Atlantic influence on its weather, despite the protection of the mountains. It has twice the rainfall of Rioja Baja to the south-east and enjoys cooler temperatures on average. The classic Rioja mainstay tempranillo is king here and makes up more than 80% of plantings, supported by garnacha, mazuelo (aka carignan elsewhere) and graciano for red wines, and viura, malvasia and garnacha blanca for whites. Chalk and clay soils proliferate. Generally, the wines of Rioja Alavesa are considered the most finely balanced of Rioja reds.Rioja Alta – Elegant reds are considered the hallmark of Alta wines. A great chunk of the major producers are based in Rioja Alta, concentrated on the town of Haro. Warmer and a bit drier than Alavesa, it also enjoys slightly hotter, more Mediterranean influenced summers and has a range of clay based soils. The reddish, iron rich clays provide a nurturing home for tempranillo while those bearing a chalkier element support the white viura well. Alluvial soils closer to the river are often home to malvasia for blending in to whites. In this area mazuelo is a regular addition to Rioja blends, providing some tannic sinew and beefing up the colour, and the reds here will often take a more significant underpinning of oak.Rioja Baja – Most of Rioja Baja is south of the Ebro and further south and east of its neighbouring sub-regions. Summers in Rioja Baja are more often than not very warm and dry, with vineyards at lower elevations than its neighbours. Consequently soils are predominantly silt and other alluvial deposits with little chalk present, and garnacha reigns supreme among the red varieties because of its ability to deal almost effortlessly with the heat. As a rule, reds from Baja are higher in alcohol and less elegant than in Alavesa and Alta, though of course there are always exceptions and particularly so as viticulture and winemaking improves with every passing year.RIOJA CLASSIFICATIONS AND STYLES EXPLAINED The official Rioja classification is a guarantee of the amount of ageing a wine has undergone. Usually the best wines receive the longest maturation but this does not guarantee quality, which is why it is just as important to follow producer. Crianza: Minimum two years (with at least 12 months in barrel)Reserva: Minimum three years (at least 12 months in barrel)Gran Reserva: Minimum five years (at least 24 months in barrel)What can be confusing is that producers use different ageing techniques (for example some might use American oak, others French, others a mix of both) which will influence the style, structure and flavour of the wine. To help you find the style you like we have split the wines into the following designations. Traditional: Fragrant, silky wines from long ageing in cask (usually American oak) and bottle; ready to drink on release. Modern-classical: Younger, rounder wines that retain the delicious character of Rioja through cask ageing (often a mix of American and French oak) with the structure to develop in bottle. Modern: Richer, velvety wines aged for less time in newer (usually) French oak; released earlier and may need keeping.
The 2014 vintage in Spain has generally produced decent quality and good volume. In Rioja, however, conditions were challenging: after a cool spring, the summer was dry with warm temperatures, and Rioja looked set for an excellent harvest. But high rainfall and warm temperatures in September and October 2014 provided perfect conditions for fungal disease. Selection was therefore essential to make good wines. Some producers took decisive action: for example, Bodegas Muga invested in a new optical sorter which, though costly, meant only the healthiest grapes were included in the fermentation. 2014 is therefore a year to follow producers who were prepared to forego quantity for quality; these are the bodegas we shall follow. A clearer picture will evolve once the malolactic fermentation is completed.Ribera del Duero had a large 2014 harvest, in some cases 25% above average, so crop thinning was essential to produce good quality. Like Rioja it will be a vintage to follow producers who were prepared to make these sacrifices. Reports from Galicia are that the albariño vintage has proved quite tricky this year, with a reduced volume available. Late rains have affected the harvest and selection has been necessary in the vineyard; nevertheless they are pretty confident about quality. From Catalunya our key supplier, Tomàs Cusiné, is upbeat, especially about the whites, which combine flavour and freshness. In Priorat particularly, rain and hail caused worries about rot but good growers worked to overcome them and there is expectation that the reds will show lovely fruit and freshness and the ability to age well. Further south, drought in Jumilla (home to monastrell and where The Society's Southern Spanish Red comes from) reduced yields by 20% but this dry weather has meant grapes have ripened in perfect health.
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