Bill’s Best Bets – January
Winter torque: brought to you by Mourvèdre
by Bill Zacharkiw
Of the big red wines, one of my favourites are those made with mourvèdre. Why? It can be aromatically very complex, can age for decades, and especially during these cold winter months, shows the ripe fruit that harkens images of warmer climates.
Mourvèdre’s origins are in eastern Spain, where it is known under the name of monastrell. It is predominately grown in the heart of Spain’s Valencia region, and is the primary grape behind the wines of the appellations of Alicante and Jumilla. What is particular to this region is that while it is hot, the heat is mitigated by altitude and proximity to the cool and humid air currents that blow off from the Mediterranean.
But in Spain, the wine producing culture is just starting to evolve from quantity into quality in many of these lesser known appellations. So much of the monastrell-based wines fall into the “great bang for your buck” category. Inexpensive, powerful.
Two excellent examples, if completely different in how they drink, are the 2013 Jumilla from Luzon and the 2013 Juan Gill Vieilles Vignes. The Luzon shows more restraint while the Gill has a more modern, richer and creamier feel to the wine. But both are loaded with sun-drenched fruit and are well under $20.
It is in France, where it is known as mourvèdre, that this great grape arguably reaches its apogee. Much like in eastern Spain, the best growing sites are near the water. In fact, they say that to grow great mourvèdre the vine needs to have its feet in the water and it must be able to see the sea. And if there is any real proof that this is true, look no further than an appellation that produces one of France’s most exceptional red wines – Provence’s Bandol.
I often refer to the wines of Bandol as the Bordeaux of the south, as the two share many of the same characteristics – dark fruits, firm tannin and an ability to age. So why don’t more wine aficionados know about it? What separates them is that Bordeaux’s cabernet sauvignon easily charms with it’s cassis and full-on berry fruitiness, while mourvèdre, especially in youth, can head in the completely opposite direction and show a full palate of the earthier notes – leather, meat, game and truffle.
An excellent example is the 2010 Domaine du Gros Noré. Beautifully layered and textured wine that is drinking remarkably well right now, and will reward even more with cellar time. If you want an excellent value in a region where it is rare to find wines under $30, try the 2011 Cuvée India from Dupéré Barrera. Great fruit and with just enough of that animal note to place you in the region.
So as many of the world’s wine regions are getting warmer, this heat-loving vine is getting more attention from grape growers. In particular, both California and Australia have started to slowly increase plantings. One of the grape’s big proponents in California is Bill Easton.
If you want something juicy, and ideal for braised meats, look no further than the Terre Rouge 2010 Tête à Tête. Mourvèdre blended with grenache and syrah, it’s an easy drinking example of what the grape can do. If you want the 100% mourvèdre, Easton also makes a very good one under the Terre Rouge label. I would still give it another year or two in the cellar, but with lamb, it will kick.
From Australia, Hewitson 2010 Baby Bush Mourvèdre is an excellent example which follows more of a Spanish theme in terms of flavour and texture. A wine which will also pair wonderfully with any braised meat dish.
So what’s holding this grape back? One reason is because of its relative finickiness with respect to where it’s being planted. But a winemaker in South Africa told me that the main reason might be its flavour profile. It is true there is a strong affection for wines that are built along fruit and fruit alone, with extra complexity coming from spices, chocolate and vanilla notes that come from oak barrels. It just might be that the gamier notes of mourvèdre have less market appeal.
But much of this has to do with having an open mind. I remember an old bottle of Bandol that I opened for a wine loving friend who had never tasted one before. “This smells like s**t,” was his first comment. He was used to drinking Napa cabernets. But once he got over the initial shock, the elegance and depth became apparent and he still talks about that bottle.
“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial
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