Learning more about Mourvèdre: a sampling of varietal wines from around the world

It recently occurred to me that I hardly ever drink mourvèdre. Or more accurately, I probably do without knowing it, as it’s often used as a blending grape that comprises a tiny percentage in a lot of wines, mixed in with other Rhone varieties like grenache, syrah and cinsault. I realized that, after all my years of tasting and learning about wines, that I couldn’t tell you what mourvèdre on its own tastes like.

Another factor complicating matters is that mourvèdre is like a secret agent among wine grapes – not just often appearing undercover, but also under many names. In parts of Spain like Jumilla, mourvèdre is known as monastrell. Some producers in Australia call it mataro. So, when it came time to choose a theme for the next tasting for one of my wine groups, naturally I chose mourvèdre.

I’ve had some good luck with monastrell from the Jumilla region of Spain in the past. In my early years of wine drinking, the Altos de Luzon bottling from Bodegas Luzon tarantas monastrellhas ranged from good to fantastic depending on the vintage – though that wine is only 50% monastrell, blended with tempranillo and cab.

Last night, I got a look at the 2011 Tarantas Monastrell, also from Jumilla. A wine of deep and rich reddish-purple color, the Tarantas gives forth aromas of dusty plums. On the palate, the fruit tastes more like slightly medicinal red and dark cherries, with plummy acidity and a slightly herby brambly edge on the finish to lend some interest. At $12 retail, this is a nice bargain-priced wine from 100% organically grown monastrell grapes and a good first glimpse into the character of this variety.

Next up, we had a French entrant, a 2010 Bandol called Le Galantin. 95% mourvèdre with a splash of grenache thrown in, this wine tastes true to its place of origin, with lavender and other Provençal herbs adding a floral edge to this rustic country wine.

Two New World takes on the variety took us to a slightly higher price range, with the 2007 D’Arenberg The Twentyeight Road mourvèdre at $31 and the 2010 Carlisle Two Acres, a California blend of mostly mourvèdre with small amounts of petite syrah, mourvedre 2syrah, peloursin, alicante bouschet and carignane. The D’Arenberg immediately justifies its higher price tag, with a perfumey nose that’s instantly appealing. To be fair, this is a bit older than the other wines, and has had time to become wine, as opposed to tasting like very primary grape juice. Ripe fruit and judicious oak have played their roles perfectly here, resulting in a slightly redder-fruited wine than the others, and it’s delicious.

The Carlisle shows a slightly meaty edge that the other wines didn’t. If we had had this double blind, I might have guessed from the nose that this was from the Rhone Valley, but the palate is classic Carlisle – dark, brooding but recognizably New World with its powerful, fruity style. The D’Arenberg wins wine of the night honors for me, but perhaps with the same amount of age on it, this Carlisle might be equally deserving.

So, after tasting these wines, what is mourvèdre like? My take is that the grape produces richly colored wines, and has a wild, brambly edge that feels part bushy, part peppery. There’s a thread of racy acidity that seems to come naturally to each of the wines tasted tonight, producing starkly flavorful and aromatic wines without forbidding tannins, even in youth. Fans of syrah, petite sirah and zinfandel/ primitivo might do well to check out mourvèdre/monastrell/mataro, in all of its guises. -Alan

The Tarantas Monastrell was tasted from a review sample bottle received free of charge from its distributor.

The perfect storm, vino version

Like a merciful bit of payback for the awful heatwave(s!) we’ve been experiencing in New York this month, I was rewarded this week with the wine world version of the perfect storm – one of those nights when everything just comes together.  The venue: Apiary, a cool little restaurant in the East Village that has a brilliant little tradition – no corkage Mondays.  Which means that on Monday nights, the place turns into a bit of a crossroads where wine industry veterans cross paths with tasting groups, cork dorks and other variations of the wine-obsessed, all vying for seats in a place that is packed to the gills.

On this night, I am dining with a group that, excluding me, could be described as Young Turks and Turkettes of the wine trade – a gang of bright young folks spanning the wine retail, distribution and wine bar channels of NYC.  Future captains of the industry to be sure, but in this crowd, we are among the less laden with disposable income – but we have enthusiasm and some smartly chosen bottles on our side.

As we settle into our table, the first winds of the stormy wine adventure start blowing.  For lo and behold, sitting at the next table is my friend Suzanne from the wine bulletin board community Wine Berserkers and a blind tasting group I’m in. We greet each other, exchange pleasantries, I ask what they’re drinking.  Next thing I know, I’m being asked for my glass, and it comes back filled with burgundy.  Not just any burgundy – Grand Cru burgundy.  My oh my, my favorite region, and suffice it to say, drinking at the grand cru level is a rare treat for me.

Our generous neighbors have poured me a beautiful wine, a 1995 Dujac Charmes Chambertin.  I smell, I swoon, I pass the glass around the table.  We are off to a fantastic start.

We hand our bottles over to our server to have the corks pulled.  It’s a nice lineup: Movia Lunar and ’99 Chateau Musar for the whites, and the reds include a Chamonard Morgon, ’07 Vincent Girardin Clos Renardes (more Burgundy!), a Cotes de Provence wine I’m not familiar with called Nowat, and my bottle, which I have covered for everyone’s blind tasting pleasure.

As we’re perusing our menus trying to make decisions, our neighbors have a wonderful surprise for us – they’re leaving us the wines they haven’t finished.  One of the best things about having wine as a passion is the terrific generosity of wine enthusiasts – and tonight, my friends from the next table are flooring me:  we get tastes of the Dujac, a 1990 Fougeray Bonnes Mares, and a healthy amount of 1991 Camille Giroud Echezeaux.  Our impromptu wine dinner has gained some serious heavyweight firepower.  The wines are wonderful.

As we our appetizers arrive, I’m enjoying the Movia Lunar – a true wine geek wine.  It’s from a producer in Slovenia (just across the Italian border), made with noninterventionist techniques, it’s unfiltered and cloudy, and it’s made from a grape I can’t pronounce or spell without help. (It’s not that bad really – ribolla gialla) It’s somewhat reminiscent of the Gravner I had from my March 10 Tasting for the Ages- a little bit golden-orange colored, in an artisanal and unusual style, and it’s genius Continue reading