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More Mourvèdre, Please

Some Recommended Wines

France (Bandol):
Domaine Tempier
Domaines Bunan
Domaine La Suffrene

Spain

Jumilla

Finca Luzón
Casa Castillo

Yecla
Bodegas Castano

U.S.
California

Cline Cellars
Tablas Creek

Washington
McCrea Cellars

Australia
d’Arenberg

 

By Jim Clarke

Syrah has been the darling of the wine press of late, and Syrah-basedShiraz at Starchefs.com wines are appearing from all over the New World, sometimes under its Australian name, Shiraz. But in the grape’s home in the Rhone Valley –in the southern Rhone, specifically – Syrah is typically blended with a number of other grapes, most notably Grenache and Mourvèdre. Grenache has already begun taking on a leading role, largely because of Spanish success with the grape (there called Garnacha) in places like Priorat. Now, Mourvèdre is ready for its close-up.

In France, Mourvèdre once dominated Provence, but after the phylloxera louse hit the region in the late 1800s most vineyards were replanted with Grenache, which grafted onto louse-resistant rootstocks more easily; only after World War II did winegrowers find rootstocks that worked well with Mourvèdre.

Domaine La Suffrene at Starchefs.comThe grape stands out in Bandol, a small appellation in Provence southeast of Marseilles where sandy soils prevented phylloxera from attacking the grapes in the first place. While it does appear as a blending grape in places like Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Bandol is the only place where AVA laws demand that it make up at least 50% of the wine – in some wines its proportion is even higher. While it dominates the best, south-facing slopes of the region, Grenache and Cinsault are often planted in the lesser sites, and the former in particular has a fruitiness that Mourvèdre can lack and which producers find useful in balancing their wines.

Mourvèdre, especially as it grows in Bandol, tends toward a meaty, spicy character; some sommeliers characterize Bandol’s aromas as “burnt pot roast.” Herbal aromas are also common, tasting notes like “sage” and “anise” are typical. Given the warmth of Provence, Bandol’s wines are generally full-bodied and dense.

Like Grenache, Mourvèdre also has Spanish connections – in fact, experts believe Spain is its native territory, and that it only came to France around the end of the Middle Ages. In Spain it is known as Monastrell or Bobal, and is the primary grape in five appellations that only recently turned the corner toward producing quality wines. Since winegrapes have grown there for many years, producers have plenty of old vines to work with, making the switch from quantity to quality easier to pull off. The Jumilla and Yecla appellations in the southeast of Spain have been the most successful so far, and are becoming increasingly available in the U.S. The wines here are full-bodied but fruitier – Monastrell often has a blackberry aroma – with lower tannins than is usual in Bandol.

In the New World, Mourvèdre was often planted alongside Syrah under the pseudonym “Mataro” – many winegrowers looked to the southern Rhone as their model, and intended to blend their Mataro together with Grenache, Syrah, and other grapes. Some Californian producers are pushing for an officially defined “Rhone varietal blend” designation for these wines; in Australia, these wines are often labeled with acronyms like “GSM” for “Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre.”

But single varietal Syrah á la the Northern Rhone has become the norm in much of the New World; some producers have taken their “leftover” Mourvèdre and bottled it on its own. Many of the resulting wines are no compromise, offering as much interest and complexity as their Syrah-based cousins. Styles vary, but generally follow the New World, fruit forward model, often touched by roast coffee and chocolate aromas.

Some Recommended Wines:

France (Bandol):
Domaine Tempier – one of Bandol’s leading lights; it was winemaker Lucien Peyraud’s efforts that led to the creation of the Bandol AOC with Mourvèdre as its centerpiece. Tempier makes a number of cuvées, almost all of which demonstrate Bandol’s distinctive meaty, gamey character. Many of them age quite well.

Domaines Bunan – makes several outstanding bottlings of Mourvèdre-based wines.

Domaine La Suffrene – in 1996 the Gravier family made their first wines instead of selling their grapes to the local cooperative, as they had previously. It’s been a successful move, and the wines demonstrate the area’s terroir very well.

Spain
Jumilla

Finca Luzón – produces several good-value Monastrells which are widely available in the U.S.

Casa Castillo – wines range from a smooth, modern style to more powerful, rugged wines that need aging to show their full potential.

Yecla
Bodegas Castano – an old winery which was renovated in the 80s, a move which kicked off a jump in quality. Especially noted for their rich Monastrell Dulce, a Port-like dessert wine.

U.S.
California
Cline Cellars – offers several Mourvèdres. The Small Berry Mourvèdre is particularly interesting for the chocolate and mint character lent it by the eucalyptus trees which surround the vineyard. Their Late Harvest Mourvèdre also stands out; it’s a lighter dessert wine but rich in flavor, and avoids the sometimes cloying character of its Spanish cousins.

Tablas Creek – the 2003 vintage gave birth to their first 100% Mourvèdre, but the grape figures large in several of their other wines, including a Rosé, the Panoplie (available to wine club members only), and the Esprit de Beaucastel. The latter isn’t just a tribute to the famed Chateau de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf-du-Pape; Tablas Creek was founded by the Perrin family, who own Beaucastel, together with Robert Hass, their importer.

Washington
McCrea Cellars – Eastern Washington has taken a strong liking to Rhone varietals, and McCrea produces a number of blends plus several single-varietal wines, including not only Mourvèdre but also rarities like Counoise and Cinsault.

Australia
d’Arenberg – Here they only used their Mourvèdre in blends until 1995, when international interest in the lesser-known Rhone varieties prompted them to take another look at the grape and offer a single-vineyard, single varietal Mourvèdre, called The Twentyeight Road.

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       Published: April 2006
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