Pierre Mansour and Matthew Horsley find out more about the 2017 vintage and oceanic influences in Rioja
If you have already read previous Travels in Wine or our buyers' annual reports published in April, you will have heard that 2017 has been a tricky year for many in Europe. It was a difficult year for much of Rioja too, with spring frosts affecting most of the region and some producers losing upwards of 50% of their crop. The spring frosts were followed by a long drought meaning that 2017 was the earliest harvest in Rioja's history. The vintage looked in trouble before rain finally came in August to help maintain the ripening balance and boost the crop.
Surprisingly, despite what was described as some of the trickiest growing conditions in recent memory, the 2017s are being reported as 'very good' to 'excellent' from the Rioja DOCa. However, due to the severity of the frosts it is likely there will be a knock-on effect to the 2018 crop and, should frost strike again, it could be disastrous for some.
Outside Muga's bodega in the railway quarter of Haro. Which came first, Riojan wines or the train?
A Mediterranean or Atlantic vintage? Manu Muga explains
Rioja is located between two oceans, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and, during a tasting with Manu Muga, we learned a little bit more about just how much of an influence these oceans have on a vintage. 'We don't talk about whether it's a modern or traditional wine here, all we care about is if it's an Atlantic or a Mediterranean vintage', says Manu (who happened to be celebrating his birthday that same day). 'Atlantic vintages are difficult to understand. They take a lot longer to develop and are often muted in their youth thanks to the cold winds coming from the Atlantic, rather than the warming influence of the Mediterranean,' he explains.
Manu – familiar to members from our tastings
Some examples of an Atlantic vintage would be: 2013, 2008, 2007 and 2002, all good vintages but ones that will benefit from an extra year or two in bottle. A Mediterranean vintage typically produces richer, meatier Riojas that mature earlier and are slightly easier to understand, like: 2014, 2012, 2010, 2004. 'Of course' he continues, 'Then there are some that have a bit of both! Like 2001 or 2015.' We were lucky enough to taste a vertical of Prado Enea, Muga's most 'traditional' wine (if I'm allowed to say that) including the 'Atlantic' 2000 which was shy yet elegant and floral, the 'Mediterranean' 2004 which was loud and proud with soft tannin and an almost chocolatey mocha note; and the 'bit-of-both' 2001 that was less powerful than 2004 and tighter on the palate but full of life – an amazing mid-point between the two, and a whole new way of looking at Rioja vintages.