Rioja Royalty – a tasting of the wines of Bodegas Muga at the Jeroboam Club, Bristol.

Another wine post, which I am sure you are all overjoyed (suppress that yawn J) about!

This one makes it 3 wine posts in a little over 2 months (only did 4 posts solely on wine last year in toto), but seriously how could I not write up a tasting of Bodegas Muga wines lead by the chap who actually makes the stuff.

Readers of the blog will be familiar with my love of Spanish wines, particulaly those from the Rioja wine region (I would add Spain in general is a gold mine for good wine).

In Rioja, and in Spain in general, the benchmark for quality and consistency is often said to be Bodegas Muga.

Located in “El Barrio de Estación” in Haro (you don’t pronounce the “H” so it is Aro – coincidentally the name of one of their top wines), Bodegas Muga produces a range of wines that rarely fail to please.

Mrs. SF and I visited the Bodega about 6 years ago (highly recommended)

and as we had the car with us (on the trip) a veritable barrel load of goodies were bought from many a bodega including the very good on site wine shop at Bodegas Muga.

There is also a wine bar at the bodega that has a great selection of vintages and wines from Muga to buy by the bottle or glass. We spent a rather lovely afternoon in there before we rolled back up the hill into the centre of Haro!

With my love of Rioja, the chance to go to a tasting (actually two in two days) led by the wine maker from Bodegas Muga, Jorge Muga, was something I wasn’t going to miss.

As a prelude to the Jeroboam Club tasting, which this post features, I was invited (thank you) to a “Meet the Producer” event at Curado Bar.

Curado Bar is one of my favourite watering holes in Cardiff and the place where I buy a lot of my wines locally. Their “Meet the Producer” events are such a great way to learn about wine as you can get info straight from the people who make it.

I had a fascinating chat with Jorge Muga in terms of the merits of various types of oak (who knew Russian oak was so good – shame a reliable supply cannot be sourced it would seem) and vegan wine (he is not a fan – Muga use egg whites to fine all their wines).

Lovely run of wines and food pairings,

with the star of the show the Prado Enea 2010.

Silky smooth on the palate, this was a belter of a wine, with bags of fruit, vanilla and cigar box aromas. Really elegant stuff.

A bottle of it plus the Selección Especial 2015 was picked up by me from the deli, taking full advantage of the fab 20% discount on the night.

The next day I hopped over to Bristol for a deeper dive into the glories that Bodegas Muga has to offer – with Jorge Muga having brought over for the tasting a fantastic array of wines from Muga’s cellar.

First up was a run of Muga’s Selección Especial wines covering the 2006, 2005 and 2004 vintages.

The Selección Especial is from vines between 30 and 60 years old and is a blend of tempranillo (70%), garnacha (20%), Mazuelo and Graciano (the rest). It is aged for 28 months in French oak and then has 18 months in bottle before release.

Reserva Selección Especial 2006

Officially categorised as a good to very good vintage (can’t say I have ever seen a year that the Consesjo de Regulator for Rioja has categorised as bad), this wine was an excellent start to proceedings.

Despite its age, the colour was rich and inky. It only had the slightest signs of brick on the very edge

On the nose it had bags of dark fruit and pleasing notes of cedar.

On the palate, there were layers of dark fruit (blackberry), with a real intensity of flavour.

Nice long finish on this wine, which will keep going strong for another 10 years I reckon.

Price: £30.

Reserva Selección Especial 2005

Notionally a much better vintage than the 2006, this was slightly disappointing in comparison to the 2006.

A rich dark colour promised plenty, but it was a bit dumb on the nose.

The fruit had mostly gone (surprising given the level of fruit in the 2006) leaving some tertiary notes (touch of meatiness perhaps) but not that much.

On the palate it was quite dry and all a bit flat as any teritary notes had yet to really kick in and the fruit was mostly gone.

Interestingly this is the second time (the first at a Ribera del Duero tasting) recently where a wine from the supposely far inferior 2006 vintage in Spain has outshone the 2005 vintage.

Anyone else seeing this elsewhere in Spain?

Second lowest scoring wine of the night.

Price : £37.50

Reserva Especial 2004

I inexplicably failed to take a picture of the bottle here (school boy error)!

Deep rich plum colour to this wine, but it is starting to show its age more than the previous two wines.

On the nose the fruit was on the way out, but unlike the 2005 the fruit had been replaced by tertiary note with wafts of wood and roasted meats (my notes said roast dinner gravy).

On the palate, the tannins were still there. There was, however, a nice hit of woody spice and dried fruit.

Better than the 2005, but I still preferred the 2006. Surprising when you look at the respective vintage scored for these vintages (93 for the 04 and 05, as against a paltry 82 for the 06 in the Wine Spectator).

Price : £37.50

Next up was a run of Prado Enea wines, with Prado Enea being one of my all time favourite Rioja wines (actually any wines).

Made (should be crafted or conjured as it is a magical wine) using a blend of tempranillo (80%) and garancha, mazuelo and graciano (the remaining 20%), the grapes for the Prado Enea wines are always the last to be brought into the winery.

Aged for 12 months in 16,000 litre oak vats, then for (at least) 36 months in French oak and then (at least) a further 36 months in the bottle, these wines filfill the requirement of the Consesjo de Regulator for a Gran Reserva.

My experience of Prado Enea wines is they can be beguiling beautiful and an utter joy to drink.

Here we had a glorious run of 8 wines starting in 2011 and going all the way back to 1985.

Prado Enea 2011

A rich dark cherry colour with no signs of age,

this wine had a lovely initial nose of blackberry and prunes. This was followed by notes of cocoa, vanilla and a pleasing toastiness as it sat in the glass.

On the palate, it was a touch tart with slightly unripe blackberry to the fore. Tannins were still there with a good level of acidity (built to age this).

I though this a big step up in class from the Especial.

Price: £49 ish.

Prado Enea 2009

Starting to show a bit of age this wine, with the rim fading a touch.

On the nose, it was a bit dumbed down compared to the 2011, with notes of forest fruit and spice but not at the same level as the 2011.

On the palate, the fruit was more stewed and the refreshing acidity of the 2011 was missing.

Price: £50 ish

Prado Enea 2001

One word for this wine and that word is ” wow”! Actually I take that back, there are three words for this wine which are” wow, wow ,wow”.

The colour is noticable lighter

than the previous two Prados, with both the core and rim showing signs of age.

It had a glorious nose of full on meaty leatheriness, with cedar, cigar box and star anise wafting up after a bit of agitation. Intoxicating stuff.

On the palate, it was loaded with sweet fresh black fruit (cherries and plums) as well as a delicious meatiness and a touch of citrus. Sounds an odd combination, but it just worked like a dream and it was liquid velvet in the mouth.

It had great length, lingering and developing in the mouth for an age.

Fabulous wine and the best wine of the night for me. Still got years left in it.

An early contender for my wine of the year, which may prove hard to beat.

Price: ? (Couldn’t find a price).

Prado Enea 2000

Not as good a vintage as the 2001, 2000 was generally viewed as a year to stick with the top producers in Rioja.

On pretty safe ground here you would think and so it proved.

Much lighter than the 2001, with quite a pale core, the nose here was meat to the max. I got really distinct cured meat in the form of cecina (which I love).

Some could say the nose was a little one dimensional, but what a great dimension it is if so.

On the palate, I got dried fruit, prunes and a delicate touch of mintiness. Soft tannins and a nice sweetness made for a very elegant wine, drinking beautifully now, which somewhat belied the aggressively meaty nose.

Probably at its peak, this placed third in terms of my scores on the night.

Price : £45

Prado Enea 1998

As with the 2000, this was showing its age on the colour front.

On the nose there was lots to interest with cherry liqueur and a touch of rose petal.

On the palate, there was a nice sweetness but it felt just a bit hot to me and it was a touch short.

Nice, but a bit of a step down from the 2000 and 2001.

Not sure it will develop much more personally. One to drink up if you have it.

Price: ? (Couldn’t find one)

Prado Enea 1995

In theory a much more vaunted vintage than the 1998,

this had a pruney colour – dark, but from age rather than youth

On the nose to me it was gone with nothing much there and much of the promised aromas having been stripped out (the lights were still on but the Time Bandits have been in and taken anything of value).

On the palate it was the same – with little, if any, fruit and lacking any replacement tertiary (other than a bit of vegetal) notes. My lowest scoring wine of the night.

There was another bottle going around the other side of the table that was reputably much better and never got around to me, so it seems my side of the table just got unlucky.

Price: £106

Prado Enea 1994

After the disappointing 1995, this was much more like the Prado Enea I know and love.

Light in colour,

it certainly packed a punch on the nose. Lovely aromas of prune, plum meatiness and then dried herbs (touch of dill).

On the palate, there was cherry with a nice hit of pepper spice as it lingered.

Lovely stuff and my second highest scoring wine of the night.

Price: £85.

Prado Enea 1985

The oldest wine of the night by some margin at 35 years old,

this wine was definately showing some age in its very light colour.

On the nose there was fruit (cherry) and tobacco with a touch of wet slate, whilst on the palate it was a little lean with touches of cherry, coffee and mocha.

Still holding up remarkably well for a 35 year old wine.

Price: £122.

Next was a run of three of Bodega Muga’s Torre Muga wines.

These wines are made from grapes from vines 60 years + old, located slightly lower than those used for the Prado Enea.

The blend is tempranillo (majority at around 70%/75% mark), Mazuelo and Graciano.

The wines spends 24 months in oak (18 months of which is in new Allier French oak) and then a minimum of 2 months in the bottle before release. This makes it a Reserva as against the Prado Enea Gran Reserva.

The style of Torre Muga wines is considered to be more towards international than the classically styled Prado Enea.

Torre Muga 2015

Big bold rich colour to this wine,

which was rich purple and nigh on opaque.

On the nose it was heady stuff, with really bold dark fruit (really ripe black cherries and plums) driven aromas and a waft of rosemary and vanilla spice when the glass was given a swirl.

On the palate, it was a big rich number with loads of sweet juicy fruit, liquorice and spice.

Notwithstanding the fruit bomb it wasn’t jammy and retained a nice freshness.

Well intregrated tannins made this a pleasure to drink now, but I reckon it will improve over the next 10 plus years.

Price £80.

Torre Muga 2014

Another big bold bruiser of a wine, with the same inky purple colour

On the nose, it was big on the berries with bags of blackberry, followed by liquorice and a touch of mint.

On the palate, it was very smooth with cassis to the fore.

Very drinkable wine and I enjoyed the left overs from a bottle a couple of days later.

Great with a Lancashire hotpot.

I actually preferred this to the 2015, which seems to be contrary to the views of the wine critics

Price: £55

Torre 2010

Another big wine, with the same rich colour.

On the nose it is muscular with lots of black fruit (cassis and blackberry) and a distinct earthiness and a touch of smoke.

On the palate it was rich and spicy, with cassis, pepper and clove.

My favourite of the three Torre Muga wines.

Price: £67.50

In terms of the Torre Muga, I preferred the 2010 to the 2014 and the 2014 to the 2015. This seems to be contray to the wine critics view (all scored highly mind), but it is all down to individual taste.

I do wonder how these Torre Muga wines will age compared to the long living Prado Eneas. I have a few bottles of the 1998 vintage so may open one to see 🤔.

The final run of wines were from Bodegas Muga prestige wine in the form of Aro, which is certainly their most expensive (at least on release) wine.

This wines is made from the oldest vines Bodegas Muga have and is a blend of Tempranillo (70%) and (30%) Graciano. It is only made in years where the Graciano is sufficiently ripe. To date there have been only 8 vintages of this wine in total starting in 2000

It is aged in Troncais french oak barrels for 18 months and then a other 12 months in the bottle before release.

This makes it a crianza, which is at first blush a surprise when you look at the price (£140+ on release).

Jorge, however, explained that to him these classifications are pretty meaningless. There is good wine and bad wine and the fact that a wine meets the Gran Reserva classification requirements doesn’t automatically make it a good wine or indeed a better wine that a crianza wine. Wise man is Jorge.

Aro 2016

The colour shows its youths, with a dark rich black cherry.

On the nose it is lots of super ripe red and black fruit (with blackberry and blackcurrants) and notes of violet and dark chocolate and pencil (graphite)

On the palate, this was a massive wine with smooth tannins and a nice refreshing acidity despite the fruit. There was on top of the fruit, layers of spice in the form of cinnamon, clove and a peppery finish.

Drinking well now, it will be interesting to see how this develops. Plenty of years left in this – I have a 2005 of this wine in the wine room that I picked up at the Bodega.

This wine was lovely, but is it a perfect wine as the 100 point rating from James Suckling suggests? I would say no – mainly because I simply can’t get my head around the concept of a perfect wine. What if it gets better with age – does it become “more” perfect? Perhaps I just prefer the style of the Prado, but to me this wines was bested by several of the Prado wines on the night.

Price : £156.

Aro 2000

Tweny years old, but the colour is still very dark and vibrant. Hardly slowing its age at all

On the nose it is big and bold with bags and bags of ripe sweet dark fruit and a touch of smokiness. Oddly despites its 20 year of age it still felt quite youthful.

On the palate it was massively concentrated, with well integrated tannins. Velvety smooth, it was luxuriant in the mouth and had enormous length. Probably at the peak of it powers this wine.

Price : £164.

Good as both of the Aro wines were I am not entirely convinced they are worth the serious money they go for.

The Verdict

A fantastic tasting with some truly fabulous wines and I would like to thank both John Chappell of the Jeroboam Club for managing to get Jorge Muga over and Jorge for the wines brought over and for the wisdom he imparted. I love these sorts of tastings where you get stuff straight from the horse’s mouth.

On the wines, whilst I very much enjoyed the Torre Muga and the Aro wines, I am a sucker for the more traditional style of Rioja. As such I was most enamoured by the Prado Enea wines on the night.

The Torre Muga and Aro seem to provide more instant gratification, but the Prado rewards those who are prepared to wait.

On this basis my top three wines were (no surprise) a clean sweep for Prado Enea and as follows:

  • Prado Enea 2001
  • Prado Enea 1994
  • Prado Enea 2000

Truly Rioja royalty these wines.