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1998 Muga Reserva Crianza, Rioja, Spain

I’m a big fan of progress, and of technology, but I have a soft spot in my heart for winemakers who eschew both and simply say, “Dammit, we’re gonna do it the way we’ve always done it.” That is, of course, as long as they make decent wine. Bodegas Muga has been making wine in Rioja since 1932. Kept in the family and built into one of the largest producers in the region, the winery makes its wines in exactly the same way it did in its first year.

Muga prides itself on the use of primarily homemade wooden casks and vats throughout the winemaking process. Wines are crushed, soaked, fermented and aged in oak — both local wood, and for the final aging process, American and French oak barrels. Muga, as a matter of practice, also exceeds all of the minimum aging requirements for its appellation designation — a move which delays bringing their wine to market, but furthers their goal of producing wines that can only be described as rustic.

This wine is a Crianza, which is a designation that is part of the DO (Denominacion de Origen) appellation system in Spain. Wines may be labeled as Crianza if they are aged for at least 36 months before release and must have spent at least 6 of those months in oak barrels, but in Rioja that requirement is upped to 12 months in oak. Crianza is also the generic Spanish term for the process of aging wine in oak, which is why you will sometimes encounter a wine labeled “sin (without) Crianza.”

A mixture of 70% Tempranillo, 20% Grenache, and 10% Mazuelo (aka Carignan) and Graciano (a local varietal known for its aromatics), this wine spent 6 months fermenting and soaking in traditional oak vats, and then an additional 24 months in French and American oak, and finally 12 months in bottle before release.

Tasting Notes:
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a meaty nose full of aromas of bacon fat, black cherries and the wet chalkboard smell that I am finding as a common thread that runs through many Spanish Tempranillos. In the mouth it provides pleasant flavors of of earth and leather, with secondary flavors of raspberry and redcurrant that carry through, supported by smooth tannins, to a substantial finish.

Food Pairing:
I find that earthier reds, especially ones with good tannic structures pair well with meats that have got some spicy or garlicky sauces (which can sometimes overwhelm wines that are more fruit driven). Try this wine with a leg of lamb with garlic and rosemary.

Overall Score: 8.5/9

How Much?:$28

This wine is relatively easy to find online, as well as at your local wine store.

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