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.

Countdown to New Year’s: cava as an alternative to champagne

As New Year’s eve approaches, many of us will be looking for some sparkling to ring in 2012 with some extra pop.  Over the next few days, I’ll be posting about some good rosé sparklers, basic champagnes, and one splurgy champagne that rocked my world.  But for today, I want to focus on cava, which is not only a great value choice because of the reasonable prices they go for, but is an excellent choice on its merits, regardless of price.

Cava – these sparkling wines from Spain are made from the same method as champagne, but to my palate they bring a somewhat lighter body and more of a saline minerality than champagne.  For many of them, I feel like they have a bit less carbonation as well, for those who want less of the gassy feel.

Good examples of cava can be found for less than $10 with reserve versions for $25 or less, so there’s lots of pleasure to be had for a reasonable sum.  At $10ish, the basic Jaume Serra Cristalino, one of the most popular brands, is quite decent, with some savory mineral. Lady of Spain cava is also less than $10, comes in a kitschy decorative bottle and pleases me a bit more by comparison, with smoother texture and deeper fruit flavors.

Stepping up the $ ladder just a bit, 2008 Raventos i blanc cava L’Hereu Reserva is pretty smooth and very tasty, dry and clean at just $15.  If you can move up to $20ish, I found Naveran’s Dama cava to be an interesting, complex wine, combining an olive note on the nose, sunny sweet fruit on the palate, a touch of floral aroma, and a salinity to lend further interest.

The wines mentioned in this post were tasted at free retailer or trade tastings, with the exception of Lady of Spain cava, which was tasted from a review sample bottle received free of charge from the distributor.


The kind of wine that should get 100 points from the critics, but doesn’t

Many people have observed that today’s major wine critics seem to award their highest scores to wines of a certain profile. If a wine gets, say, 95 points or more on a 100-point scale, it seems like certain words tend to pop up in the tasting note: “massive”, “concentrated”, “powerful”, “hedonistic”, and “opulent” leap to mind, usually embellished with exclamations about “gobs and gobs of fruit” or “a finish that goes on and on for over 60 seconds!”

I like big wines as much as the next guy, but the wines that really scramble my brain are the ones that don’t have to knock you backwards with power to impress you – they’re the ones with a sense of dynamics, subtlety, complexity – wines with more than one gear. The ones where you judge it with your palate and not a stopwatch – based on the quality and beauty of the flavors, not on how many seconds that the overextracted fruit flavors register for in your mouth.  Let’s take wine appreciation away from the realm of competitive sport, shall we?

I recently came across a wine that could be the poster child for my argument. I hesitated to write about this wine, because I recently did an episode on this blog about a wine from the same producer. But some wines just demand attention, and at a recent Polaner tasting in New York, this wine stood head and shoulders above not only the many fine wines poured that day, but also above almost every other wine I’ve ever tasted.

The wine I’m talking about: the 1991 R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva, a classic rioja rendered as flawlessly as I’ve ever had the pleasure to taste. Right out of the gate, the nose has so much going on – an airy openness, an oxidative note, a hint of a savory element, spice, leather, tobacco – all anchored by a pleasing sweetness to the fruit that is not powerful, but incredibly impactful.   The nose is just thrilling and sets up so much anticipation for tasting the wine, which is just what the nose of a wine should do in my book.

The palate, thankfully, lives up to the pleasure given off by the bouquet of the wine. The Continue reading

Episode 11: Lopez de Heredia, and preserving leftover wine

Today’s episode features one of the wines that got my obsession with wine started – the Vina Bosconia from one of my all-time favorite wineries, R. Lopez de Heredia. Also, some quick tips on how to save leftover wine and keep it fresh, without buying any of those pump or argon gas gadgets!

Lopez de Heredia Bosconia Reserva Rioja 2001 Review from Amateur Wino on Vimeo.