2014 Muga, Reserva – Rioja, Spain

Grape: 70% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha, 10% Mazuelo (Carignan) and Graciano

Owners/Winemakers: Three generations of the Muga family

Approximate Retail Price: $25

Website: bodegasmuga.com


Color: Intensely dark, leaning toward ruby, reflective and opaque but not cloudy

Aroma: Dark fruits, black cherry, peppery with strong but not overpowering oak with a slight, tantalizing earthiness

Taste: Rich black cherry following through, soft dark fruits lingering in the finish, slight tannins and good acidity

Although the Muga Winery wasn’t founded until 1932, the Muga family has been associated with winemaking in Spain’s Rioja region since the 17th century. The Mugas take immense pride in owning and operating their business and in creating high-quality traditional wine while embracing modern techniques and technology.

Muga sources its fruit from five separate vineyards throughout Rioja. Each vineyard enjoys a unique microclimate, which provides a wide range of influences on grape production, from the soil, through Atlantic, Mediterranean and landlocked winds, to elevation and solar exposure. With tempranillo as the predominant varietal grown and used, Muga also uses garnacha, mazuelo (aka carignan) and graciano for the reds, the last of the three being blended in small portions with the tempranillo to produce the winery’s different Riojas. Viura (aka macabeu) and malvasia are used for the white and sparkling (cava) wines.

In its winemaking process, Muga uses only oak, with no stainless steel or concrete, starting with fermentation in large oak casks, then secondary fermentation and aging in smaller barrels. The winery boasts the rare feature of having its own cooperage, a facility devoted to the art of barrel-making, with every barrel produced for Muga wines made in-house. Muga’s cooperage employs three coopers and a cubero, who specializes in big casks. To make its barrels, the winery buys oak predominantly from France and America – quite possibly from Missouri, as this state ranks among the main contributors of American oak.

Muga separates oak by quality, hardness and grain size, as well as how it anticipates each type of oak will contribute to a given wine’s flavor. It also relies on racking the wine in favor of filtering.

Although Muga doesn’t filter the wine, it does “fine” it – add a substance (the fining agent) to the wine to create a variable bond with suspended particles, yielding bigger molecules and particles that will precipitate out of the wine easier and faster. (Traditionally, egg whites serve as the fining agent, although alternate materials sometimes serve to make wines “friendlier” to vegans.)

Muga regularly produces a white, two rosados, two cavas and five reds, with nary a dud among them. All of its wines represent the more traditional flavors and attributes of Rioja wine, with the reds easily the epitome of quality wine from the region.

The Reserva, under consideration here, ages for 24 months in oak and at least a year in the bottle before being released. A delicious, easy-drinking and flavorful red, it can be drunk year-round – and it’s affordable, to boot! Collectors might wish to watch for the Prado Enea Gran Reserva or the Aro. In spring and summer, the white and rosados should disappear from your patio all too quickly.

Food Pairings: This wine pairs splendidly with aged meats, veal, stews and flavorful soups, and medium-soft cheeses.

Certified Sommelier Stanley Browne owns Robust Wine Bar in Webster Groves.