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.

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