Muga is regarded as one of the most traditional of Rioja’s bodegas, without a stainless steel tank in sight. The first wines were made in an underground cellar until 1968, when they decided to set up their own winery in a beautiful old 19th century townhouse situated in the city of Haro.
Bodegas Muga’s outstanding feature is that they always use the finest materials, combining tradition with the latest advances in winemaking so as to always give their wines the very best quality without losing authenticity. Indeed, it is the only wine cellar in Spain that employs its own master cooper and coopers, who make all the vats for the cellar as well as the oak casks. At any given time, there are some 17 thousand barrels here, of which around 60% are French – mainly Allier and Tronçais – while the rest are made from American oak shipped from Kentucky and Ohio. Whatever its origins, it is all air-dried for two years before being profiled, compressed, shaped and toasted by the Muga coopering team.
The winery remains true to traditional winemaking methods such as racking the casks by gravity and fining the wine with fresh egg whites. Bodegas Muga has succeeded in combining the purest family tradition with an updated vision of the future which has allowed them to preserve their own personality and character. Winemaker Jorge Muga, grandson of the founder, now leads the winery at its helm with his meticulous attention to detail in all areas of production.
Visiting tastebuds will limber up, in preparation for the bodega’s classic reds, with a refreshing modern white or mouth-watering rosado. The reds are overwhelmingly Tempranillo-based, deriving additional complexity from smaller amounts of Garnacha, Mazuelo (aka Carignan) and Graciano to complete the house style. Even a fairly straightforward crianza from Muga can take 3 years to evolve and can easily last for a decade. Reserva wines and Reserva Selección Especial, made from roughly similar blends of around 75% Tempranillo, with Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo display classic mellow rounded characters but retain a rich fruit quality and structure. They hit their stride in 4–5 years and can last for 20.
The Gran Reserva, Prado Enea, with around 80% Tempranillo is an impressive, traditionally-framed Rioja which is understated yet intensely flavoured from its extended period of cask ageing, and three years in bottle. Approachable at 10 years of age it lasts “forever”, says winemaker Juan Muga.
Muga also produces two high-profile wines in the Alta Expression category – a new-wave interpretation of Rioja (“at its highest expression”) made in a glossy, non-traditional style with no regard for the usual rules of engagement on, for example, ageing. This development, as topical in Rioja as the outbreak of cutting-edge, architect-designed winery buildings, is a move to secure the attention of American über-critics hitherto unmoved by the region’s classic offerings and to use the resultant “Parker Points” and Wine Spectator world rankings to raise the profile of the traditional wines in the USA. Torre de Muga, of which 50,000 bottles are made has 75% Tempranillo with Mazuelo and Graciano in support, and two years in wood, of which 18 months are Allier barrels, followed by a year in bottle. Áro Muga is the result of draconian selection, from very old vines, including 30% Graciano, also aged for 24 months in barrel, 18 of them in new Tronçais barriques, and at least 12 months in bottle. Only 5000 bottles are made. Not surprisingly, it carries a hefty price tag.