Another day at the library, but somehow not nearly as productive as the past few days. I think it’s that all the grapes are pretty well noted, and just not quite memorized and I’m having a hard time moving on to the next bit of study. The WSET Diploma Unit 3 Exam is just days away, so now is the time for real cramming, and I’m certainly feeling the pressure, but at the same time it’s so easy to do other things and to get distracted.
I still have half-bottles of everything we tasted a couple of nights ago, and had intended to write up proper notes for the inexpensive Burgundy, the Beaujolais Villages and the Barola, but rather than tasting the same wines yet again, we had a bottle of the Muga Reserva Rioja 2006 with dinner and I’ll write about that instead. The other wines may have improved over the last couple of days or they may be worse for wear, but I’d rather taste something a bit more like what I’m likely to encounter under exam conditions.
So Rioja – easily the best known Spanish wine region, though I think many people would be hard pressed to put it on a map. Then again, I was the same way with Bordeaux for a very long time. It’s in the north, roughly in the middle, but set back from the coast by about an hour and a half’s drive. If you have a leisurely start in the morning in Bilbao, you can have a fine lunch in Rioja without any trouble.
Red wines of Rioja may be made from four grapes – Tempranillo, Garnacha (Grenache), Mazuelo (Carignan) and Graciano. Tempranillo is the most widely planted by far, and most red Riojas are blends dominated by it. The back label on this bottle puts the blend as 70% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha, and the remaining 10% a combination of Mazuelo and Graciano. Also to use the term reserva, a wine must be released three years after vintage, with at least one year in oak. This wine had two years in a mix of French and American oak.
The use of oak is one of the ways to spot a Rioja, in that classically it can show signs of oxidative maturation. Essentially, barrels let in some amount of oxygen and that interacts with the wine. Corks in bottles do as well, to a lesser degree. So often for Riojas you’ll get secondary characteristics earlier than you might with other wines, including a browning of the wine slightly.
Unfortunately for a novice, this wine shows little of that. While there’s a bit of dried fruit and spiciness, I would not say this has had particularly oxidative maturation. The colour still bright for a five year old wine, and it’s showing no signs of too much air getting to it.
Clear and bright, medium-plus garnet, with quick legs.
Clean and developing, with medium intensity of sweet spice, vanilla, dried strawberries and tart plums.
Dry, medium acidity, medium body, medium tannins, medium-plus alcohol, medium-plus flavour intensity of strawberries, vanilla, pomegranate, and black pepper with a spicy finish. Medium length.
This is a good quality wine. There’s nothing out of place with regards to balance – the intensity and alcohol are somewhat more prominent than the acidity or tannins, but I think that’s just a stylistic decision that works well. I would have liked more complexity – the flavours were intense enough, but I struggled to identify specific descriptors. Still, the flavour profile was pleasant if somewhat simplistic. The length was adequate – neither long nor short.
So I’m guessing this is the new style. Much of the course material, for Spain in particular, describes regions having a traditional, sometimes rustic, way of making wine, which usually involves old wooden fermentation vessels and hot ferments, as well as either no time in barrel or no new oak. Then they also mention a new style, which is much more modern, with stainless steel, temperature control, much more exacting in terms of technique, and quite often new oak. I’m thinking this is relatively newer in style, in that it’s fresh and clean, though lacking slightly in character. I know it’s a Reserva, but I’m sure Muga has one or two wines in their portfolio that are a step or two above it in quality. All in all, a good wine.