Bodegas Muga is one of the leading wineries in Spain’s elite wine region of Rioja. We not only got to tour and taste at Muga, but the winery hosted us at a very special private lunch at their winery. Ten of us were a part of the very exclusive Bordeaux to Rioja wine tour put on by Iberian Wines Tours and it was Iberian’s connection with the winery that got us this special invitation. One of the great things about going on these tours is that you get into places that you simply cannot on your own.
Muga was well known to us before we visited them. We have been drinking their wines for years as they produce a variety of styles and they have good distribution in North America. Their Rosado is a great summer Rosé and their Reserva is one of the best under $30 wines you can find. To really understand any winery you need to understand the place that it comes from. Rioja is the wine appellation in northern Spain that has enjoyed a long history of excellent winemaking. When the phylloxera louse decimated the vineyards of Bordeaux in the late 1800’s, the Bordelais travelled to Rioja and bought up their main crop, the Tempranillo grape. They then brought back the grapes to Bordeaux, vinified them there and sold them as Bordeaux. Rioja is protected from the cooling influences of the Atlantic ocean by the Cantabrian Mountains, and therefore enjoys a warm, dry climate where the summers are hot and the winters are cold. The clay and limestone soils coupled with the climate are ideal for growing red grapes which are the mainstay of the region.
Muga has 250 hectares of vineyards in the northwest part of Rioja known as Rioja Alta. Rioja Alta can be translated as “high river” from the Spanish, taking its name from both its proximity to the Ebro River and the fact that it is at the highest elevation within Rioja. The winery owns five vineyards: El Estapal, La Loma, Baltracones, La Loma Alta and Sajazarra. Muga also has contracts to purchase grapes from another 150 hectares. Plantings are predominantly to Tempranillo with lesser amounts of Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano, with small amounts of the white grapes Viura and Malavasia.
The winery itself is located in the charming historic town of Haro, in the old rail district, a short walk from other vinous royalty such as Vina Tondonia, CVNE and La Rioja Alta. Founded in 1932 by Isaac Muga Marinez and his wife Auro Cano they set out to make high quality wines using traditional methods. This means selecting high quality grapes and then making the wine completely in oak vessels of various types. There are no stainless steel or concrete fermenters to be seen at Muga as fermentation takes place in large old oak vats.
The wine is then aged in oak barrels that were made on the premises by their own coopers. As a part of the tour we watched the barrels being made in the cooperage. This was a fascinating experience as each barrel is made entirely by hand, with each stave cut to precision and then curved over an open fire and finally banded together with steel bands. Muga is the only winery in Spain to have its own cooperage.
Today the winery is now in the hands of the founder’s grandchildren. They continue to respect the traditions that winery was founded upon. This has resulted in them producing some of the best traditional Rioja in the market. But as they have grown, they have observed the modernists within Rioja, doing things in a different way and pushing boundaries. And making very good wine, albeit different than their traditional style. At the end of the 1990’s, Muga decided to introduce two new wines that reflected this more modern approach: Torre Muga and Aro. Both of these wines show rich dark fruit layered over plush textures. These very powerful wines stand in contrast to the elegance and finesse of their traditional wines. They also show the family, like many in Rioja, are able to respect traditions while at the same time embrace new innovations.
After touring the winery and the cooperage we were invited to lunch in the dining room that sits in the beautiful 200 year old stone building that houses the winery. There we were served a sumptuous lunch and given royal VIP treatment. The lunch was paired with four of their wines and enjoyed over two hours and was an incredible dining experience.
2017 Muga Viura
Viura is the main white grape of Rioja and while not easy to find, it is well worth the search. There was a wonderful contrast within this wine: rich texture was joined by bracing acidity in such a way as to compliment each other and not fight for attention. Green apple flavours dominate while background notes of honeydew add complexity. Very refreshing.
2014 Muga Reserva
This is the main wine of the house and receives broad distribution in North America. 70% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha and 10% Mazuelo. Fermented with indigenous yeasts and raised for 24 months in oak barrels made on the premises. Dark red cherry, raspberry and spice notes come across on a medium body with moderate tannins that would suggest ageing potential for a decade.
2012 Muga Selecion Especial
Similar in blend to the Reserva, and as its name implies, this is a special selection of their finest vineyard plots. This wine rests in oak barrels for 28 months and then ages for a further year at the winery before being released into the market. Dark cherry, raspberry and blackberry are joined by notes of espresso and hints of caramel. On the finish we get black pepper and dark chocolate. There is amazing balance for such a young wine. The body is medium+ and the tannins are well integrated resulting in a terrific mouthfeel now that will only develop further with time in the cellar.
2010 Prado Enea
This is the winery’s Gran Reserva and keeps to the traditional side of the ledger. Made from 80% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha and 10% Mazuel and Graciano. The wine spends 12 months in 16,000 litre neutral oak vessels and then is transferred to oak barrels for another 36 months. The winery holds it back for a further 36 months after bottling. There was definite wow factor with this wine! This wine has it all: impeccable balance, complexity, gorgeous mouthfeel and a finish that goes on and on. Flavours of red and black cherry dominate and gain intrigue from the secondary notes of baking spices and fresh woodsy aromas. Each time we return to our glass we detect something new. This is an intellectual’s wine that challenges your palate to discern all of the subtle nuance that is going on. Big and flavourful, but in no way heavy, it is a classic alignment of power and elegance. This was drinking very well now but will show development for probably two decades to come. Prado Enea is only made in top vintages.