In a world where there is currently no shortage of confusion, it’s important to understand what you are doing and why; to know exactly what your points of difference are and to articulate them clearly. Bodegas Muriel, in the heart of Rioja, are masters of both.
The company began almost 100 years ago, when José Murúa set up his business vinifying and selling wine in bulk. In the 1980s, his son Julian moved the company to the next level by creating a label of their own.
And the name he chose for it was significant. Rather than simply go with the family name, Murúa, he chose instead an elision of their surname, with the village where they were based, Elciego.
Bodegas Muriel is, quite literally, a coming together of a family’s experience and a region’s expression. It is a winery that is very much rooted in – and proud of – the land where it sits.
You can very definitely see this mentality in the winery’s Fincas de la Villa range of wines. There are clear differences in the ageing requirements for crianza, reserva and gran reserva red wines. But Muriel wanted to go beyond this.
‘They are obviously important categories for Rioja and very well recognised, but we think in terms of quality it’s not necessarily the key factor,’ says Javier Murúa.
Instead, each of the three red expressions has a different rationale. The Fincas de la Villa Crianza is mostly made up of fruit from the Rioja Alavesa sub-region that is home to Elciego. Since consistency of house style is important for crianza wines, Bodegas Muriel allows small amounts of fruit from other parts of the DO to ensure that fruit levels, tannin and acidity are where they want them.
The Fincas de la Villa Reserva wine, however, is made entirely from fruit from the village of Elciego. In a DO that has founded its reputation largely on pan- regional blending, it’s a brave decision, but such a commitment to regional expression certainly sets the wine apart.
The Gran Reserva, meanwhile, has a different USP again. Sourced solely from vineyards that are at least 50 years old, it’s a wine that is about complexity rather than size or fruit concentration.
Move onto the winery’s prestige label, Viña Muriel, and the story changes once more. This range comprises a Reserva white, a Reserva red and a Gran Reserva. And the focus narrows down beyond sub-region and village to specific plots of land. All three wines come from single vineyards.
The two Reservas are sourced from a viñedo in the winery’s Elciego heartland. From chalky/gravel soil with full sun exposure, the wines are ripe, gentle and easy to drink – classic expressions of quality Rioja Reserva.
The Gran Reserva, meanwhile, hails from the village of Lanciego, higher up in the hills of Rioja Alavesa. From an altitude of 650m, it’s tighter and nervier, with brighter acids and more granular tannins. It benefits from the extra ageing to give a wine of lift and elegance.
This combination of ‘tradition’ and ‘difference’ is carried on Bodegas Muriel’s famous Conde de los Andes winery. In Ollauri on the edge of Haro, one of Rioja’s most celebrated wine ‘barrios’, it’s a cellar that dates back to the 16th century, with 2km of beautiful winding stone tunnels. Yet the winery itself is also experimenting with concrete eggs and large format oak – about as 21st century as it gets.
This might, indeed, be a time of uncertainty. But at least Bodegas Muriel – a company where past meets present, and modern meets traditional – is one thing that wine lovers everywhere can count on.
Wines to try
Muriel Fincas de la Villa Blanco 2019
A 100% Viura from poor clay/loam soils in Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Alta, this pale apple-and-citrus flavoured wine is great with everything from seafood and shellfish to salads.
Muriel Fincas de la Villa Rosado 2019
This pink (a blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo and Viura) shows why you shouldn’t overlook Riojan rosados. Cheerful strawberry and sour cherry flavours make this a match for pasta, salads and white meat.
Muriel Fincas de la Villa Crianza 2016
Limestone soils and 12 months ageing in American oak barrels make this a classic expression of crianza, with red-fruit flavours and a liquorice undertone. Try it with tapas, small game birds and mid-strength cheeses.
Muriel Fincas de la Villa Reserva 2015
With two years in French and American oak barricas, and two more years in bottle, this wine is perfectly ready to drink on release. Ripe, integrated fruit is backed up by herbs and spices, to give a polished wine that’s perfect for roast lamb.
Muriel Fincas de la Villa Gran Reserva 2011
Old vines, plus a third year of ageing in bottle creates a wine with real evolution. Dried fruits backed up by tobacco and leather with a long complex finish, it’s good with lamb, of course, but also game, meaty fish and – why not? – chocolate desserts.