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6 February 2024

Feted Rioja Producer Muga Lights Up The Taste Buds

Sommeliers have changed; traditionally they were unapproachably arrogant and regarded themselves of the kings of the wine trade.  However, there are exceptions, sadly there is one in an otherwise highly respected Knightsbridge hotel.  When the topic  of rose wine was raised in an interview, I para-phrase, he said with disdain, “I do not regard rose as worthy to be called a wine, but guests request it in the summer so I include it on the wine list from May until September”.
If I enjoy something, I want others to get the same pleasure, but if they get a raw deal it annoys me.  Wine is a particular issue, people who do not want to stand out as being a non-wine drinker  frequently settles for a rose which is regarded as being a fairly safe choice, and frequently does not have the more forceful characteristics of some other wines.  
So many wine makers who make rose wines as an after-thought are either not skilled enough nor perhaps could not care less about the quality.  They are peddling their inferior products to a very vulnerable market.  After all, they are supposed to be selling pleasure but frequently a tasting prompts the reaction “I don’t like wine” – what they mean is “I don’t like bad wine”.
The Spanish Muga rioja red wine is only on my Christmas list of wines as it regrettably out of my price range for every day drinking.  An invitation to taste their rose and white wines was readily accepted on the basis if you can produce a stunning well-made red, then there is a good chance that their others wines will rate.  
Obviously, my first choice was their rose; it was well-made which gave it clean, clear, refreshing tastes.  I was not looking for lots of flavour and depths that you would expect in other wines, but as a lunch time wine for anyone on a summer’s day, it was a joy.  Champagne is more than a wine, it reflects celebration, but take out that factor and I would rate the rose as an excellent alternative at half the price.  I would even offer it to a maiden teetotal great aunt with confidence that I had made the right choice both for her and those wanting a light wine.
Moving on to Muga’s white wine, this is where the character comes through, lots of reasons why it is so successful from its terroir to the new French barrels (made in-house) in which it rests on its lees for three months (more later).  The vineyards are in the north of the rioja region and are amongst the highest.
The grapes are 90% Viura with 10% malvasia; on a wine tasting trip to Slovenia just before Christmas, the latter was the star grape.  Whichever way you analyse their wines, it is the overall approach of the owners that is the real determinant which dictates the success of the wines.
The Muga operation is family owned and run, it is certainly big with 300 hectares under vines, in addition, they have (real) partners who are independent growers from whom they have bought their crops for at least forty years.  If it is a bad year, they still buy the grapes to ensure continuity; nevertheless, they will not produce a vintage and so they sell the grapes to other producers.  I suggested a second label could be more cost-effective but that was immediately dismissed as that would not meet the standards the family sets itself.   
 As a public company Muga would not fit the role at all, their criteria are completely different from the appetite of stock exchanges to the extent that they have a very long term view and shun any short term gains to satisfy graph plotters.  If it is a bad year, then so be it; they get on and prepare for the next harvest.
Bodegas Muga was founded in 1932 by Isaac Muga and his wife, Aurora Caño, both of whom came from families with a long tradition of activity within the wine-making industry.  Over the years, Muga wines have gained international recognition and acclaim with half the production being exported. The vineyards are situated high on the east and south-facing slopes of the Obarenes Mountains, which are sculptured into terraces to form a series of small plots.
Muga’s northern  vineyards are in the Oja and Tirón river valleys which have their own micro climates that take in Mediterranean, Atlantic and Continental climatic influences.   These conditions produce grapes which have their own definitive flavours; add skilled winemakers and you have really appealing wines.  It is no wonder that their Rosado 1016 wine was featured in the ‘Top 20 Rose Wines’ of The Daily Telegraph.