Muga Reserva Rioja or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love a Spanish Wine
I have never been fond of Spanish wines. Frankly, to me, your average middling Spaniard tastes like someone added a quarter cup of pine resin to a liberally sweetened glass of Concord grape juice. But, like anything, there are notable exceptions to this rule, and the 2008 Muga Reserva Rioja is one of them.
My first experience drinking a Muga Reserva occurred in 2010. I was sitting at a bar, sipping a cognac with the owner, and gabbing about our favourite wines. He had recently been to Spain, and was raving about a Rioja he had tried there. Barely containing my incredulity, I made a loosely veiled comment about my thoughts on Spanish wine. With a wink he ducked behind the bar, and producing a couple of glasses and a bottle, he poured us each a taster on the house.
Needless to say, I was shocked. This 2005 vintage Muga was absolutely superb. Far exceeding the complexity I anticipated, its balance was near perfect and managed to maintain its Spanish sweetness without inundating my palate with tree sap. I was instantly a convert.
Muga’s most recent vintage is the 2008, and manages to maintain the excellence I have come to expect from this vineyard. Its blend of 70% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha, 7% Mazuelo and 3% Graciano varietals represent an archetypal and complex Spanish blend. Muga Reserva’s two-year oak-aging and heavy tannins are suited for some serious aeration, so I let it lie in a crystal decanter for half an hour before pouring it. And boy, was that wait arduous.
The ’08 poured a beautiful clear ruby, fairly light and completely translucent. The legs fell quickly, giving me a preview of the medium body I was to expect. But the real action started when I dipped my beak in.
On the nose, the Muga is absolutely stunning. Notes of nutmeg and allspice are elevated on a body of blackberry and wood. It’s undoubtedly a potent varietal, and the scent of this ambrosia was more akin to incense than anything else. It’s almost a shame to drink this wine; the Muga seemed more suitable to dab on my wrists and neck before a date.
But drink it I did, and might I add, without regret. The mouth-feel is exceptionally good. The wine packs enough heft to linger without loitering, and enough tannins to remind you you’re not drinking no sissy red. Unlike other Spaniards, the tree resin is absent, and in its place a delicious soupçon of cedar wood. Along with the cedar, notes of black pepper serve to cut the sweetness provided by the blackcurrant and vanilla, ensuring an orchestral harmony absent in so many of its peers. It’s quite dry, and leaves you with a puckering sensation, but this only means that the ’08 will age wonderfully for years.
I was wrong about Spanish wine; or, at least, too broad in my generalizations. The Muga Reserva Riojais a damn fine specimen. It’s complex, well-balanced, accessible to all tiers of wine drinkers and reasonably priced at only $23.95 a bottle. While I’m not packing my bags for Spain anytime soon, it’s immensely pleasurable imbibing this diamond in the rough. This is definitely one wine you’re going to want to sip slow.