Monday, 21 November 2011

Rioja Part 2 - Bodegas Muga and Lopez de Heredia

Continuing my reports on a trilogy of dedicated Rioja tastings at Nottingham Wine Circle, here are my notes on the second instalment. This particular tasting was presented by my friend and fellow Wine Circle member Andy Leslie, who purchased all of the wines during his Summer 2011 visits to both Bodegas. Yes - despite the age of some of these wines, they are all current releases!

Muga Blanco 2010
Ultra-pale, with a nose of toasty oak and banoffee pie, citrus lime and herbs. The palate is fresh, juicy and long. It isn't complex, but give it a year or two.......

Muga Blanco 2008
Slightly deeper in colour, with much more integrated oak. Perhaps a bit dumb, but with citrus and herb notes peeping through. The oak is more to the fore on the palate, but 2 years in bottle have added some complexity and there is a good deal of minerality and the finish is long and mouth-watering.

Muga Rosado 2010
A pale onion skin/salmon colour, with a fresh fruit and candy nose. The flavours are bright and zingy, with notes of cranberry, redcurrant and citrus. This is a classy rosé, with a lovely rhubarb tang to the finish.

Lopez de Heredia Vina Gravonia Blanco Crianza 2001
Now we are talking -  4 years in barrel and plenty of bottle age makes for what I call proper white Rioja. The nose is typically Lopez de Heredia (you need to have experienced them to know what I'm on about), and really fresh, with aromas of apples, herbs and spices, subtle cheesy notes and old wood. The palate is perhaps a tad less exciting than the nose, but still lovely and complex and very long. And of course it is still a baby, so give it time!

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Blanco Reserva 1993
This is darker and slightly caramelly and honeyed, perhaps even a touch sherried/madeirised, but with lovely citrus and herb notes and a high-toned quality. The palate is stunning - rich, yet fresh and full of life, with wonderful acidity, a little bit of tannic grip and amazing length. A warming, spicy, zingy wine of great complexity and breed. Wonderful.

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rosado Gran Reserva 2000
The nose doesn't give too much away, but it gradually opens-out into something really quite "winey", with subtle woody notes.The palate is again quite winey, but for my personal taste, it could do with a little more residual fruit flavour. To be fair, it does blossom in the glass and is actually quite long on the finish. A good, but not great wine, which some others liked a lot.

Lopez de Heredia Vina Cubillo Crianza 2005
Smells traditional, but could almost be a rather attractive Rhone or Burgundy wine. It is young and full of fruit, ultra-spicy, slightly woody and quite complex. It is long and lovely, with a good few years of development left in it.

Muga Rioja Crianza 2007
A striking nose, reminiscent of celeriac and caraway, quite beefy/savoury and almost soupy. The palate is rich and tannic and somewhat modern, with rich bramble and blackcurrant fruit flavours. That said - and as "modern" Rioja goes - it is a decent wine, but it just suffers in the company of more traditional wines. Not complex, but decent enough.

Muga Reserva Seleccion Especial 2005
Another modern nose, laced with vanilla and burly fruit, but also seems quite balanced. Almost Bordeaux-meets-Rhone in style, with a touch of red capsicum and perfume/florality. The palate is again rich and extracted and rather tannic, but with plenty of fruit. A bit of a Parker wine, but not bad.

Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Reserva 2002
The nose is subtle and rather closed, but there is something inviting about it. Red and black fruit, pepper and red capsicum, with notes of polished old wood. The palate seems slightly disjointed and young, but it has tannin and acidity in equal measure and no doubt some hidden fruit that will emerge with time. Promising, rather than lovely.

Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Reserva 2001
This puts the 2002 above into perspective - 2001 was a magnificent vintage, and this wines shows why. Perfumed and floral (violets), with notes of mushroom and farmyard - and simply oodles of fruit. The palate is concentrated, spicy and complex, with layers of rich fruit, oak, spices, herbs and just a touch of typical 2001 alcohol, tempered by grippy tannins and juicy acidity. Long too. This is superb now, but could be amazing in another 5 or 10 years.

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva 2001
Initially, this smells tight, closed and almost dull in comparison to the Bosconia. But with air, the fruit begins to emerge, with black fruit aromas which almost remind me of the Languedoc, but with no discernible oak. The palate has plenty of sweet and sour red and black fruits, quite hefty tannins and medium-high acidity. It is rich and beautifully tangy, but is currently very tightly-wound and needs another 5 to 10 years to really come into its own. A real sleeper, which could also blossom into something very special. I hope so, becuase I now have 3 bottles of my own to tuck away!

Muga Reserva Seleccion Especial 1995
A lovely nose - perfumed and floral with notes of soft and crystallised fruits. The palate shows lots of sweet fruit (almost too sweet), though there is plenty of acidity. It just lacks a little something in the middle. It is a nice wine, but lacks the stucture and complexity which might justify a £28 price tag. Ultimately, it comes across as more like a new world Pinot than a middle-aged Rioja.

Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva 2004
A deep, dark, rich colour, but smells almost like a (deep, dark, rich) Burgundy, in an oaky, red/black fruit sort of way. However, unlike the Seleccion Especial 1995 above, it has a start, a middle and a finish - in other words it has structure. Yes it is rich, and not really in the mould of classic Rioja (for now, at least) but it is a very good wine, which has all the components necessary to age gracefully for many years.

Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva 2001
This again speaks loudly of the vintage. Tobacco and curry spices, polished wood and plenty of florality make for a rather glorious nose. The palate too has everything in equal measure - fruit, richness, tannin and good acidity. This is a lovely wine, worthy of much contemplation.

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva 1991
Talk about saving the best until last! This has an utterly glorious, ultra-traditional nose of preserved red fruits, citrus peel, forest floor, fresh coffee grounds, old wood and layers of soft spices, all of which come through on the palate in a wine that is nigh-on perfect right now. Indeed, I personally think it is at the absolute pinnacle of maturity, although others think it may last for many more years. If I had some (which unfortunately I don't) I would be in no great rush to drink it, but I wouldn't let it hang around for too long either. A real cracker.

It will probably come as no great surprise that, whilst some of the Muga wines were impressive in their own way (and a couple were really excellent), the Lopez de Heredia wines won hands-down. In a region where so many growers seem to pander to the tastes of a certain influential American wine critic with an aversion to subtlety, there are fortunately still a few that continue to produce good, old-fashioned, quirky, traditional Rioja - just like they always have done. And to paraphrase the great Brian Clough, I wouldn't say Lopez de Heredia is the best Rioja grower in the business. But they are in the top one.


Andy Leslie said...

Hi Leon

Thanks for taking the time to write-up some notes from this. While it really wasn't my intention to set the two producers against one another, the comparisons are interesting. Muga definitely aren't the most modern of producers - there are plenty of others with barriques and late-harvested fruit to a far greater extent. Many would regard Muga as a sort-of cleaned-up traditional style. For me, I think their cleaning-up has led to wines that just lack a bit of snap and vigour and character. But at the top-end, the 2001 Prado Enea, they are making brilliant stuff, and I bet this will be very lovely in 10 years, as you say.

One other comment - the more Rioja from 2001 I try, the more I see that apparently everyone has made great wine from that year....



Leon Stolarski said...

I was thinking of adding a similar comment regarding the 2001's. I've tasted a good many 2001's from various growers and - with few exceptions - they have been, erm... exceptional. My point being that many bodegas are capable of making good (and in some cases great) wines in great years. But very few reach the heights that LdH do, in "bad", average or merely good years. Consistency is the key.

Vinogirl said...

Wow! That really was a great tasting...that Muga Rosado sounds great!