on Mourvèdre: a grape variety on the rise
After languishing in the wilderness for a while, Mourvèdre
is now on the verge of becoming hip. It’s in the new world where the
real image change is taking place, and in particular California and
Australia. It used to be Mataro, a spotty teenager with a crap social
life. But it’s undergone an image makeover, metamorphosing into
Mourvèdre, the grape that everyone wants to know. It’s been invited
to the party.
Its spiritual home is Provence’s Bandol region, which
itself has undergone a revolution in the last thirty years. Led by
Lucien Peyraud’s Domaine Tempier, Bandol now boasts a clutch of
dynamic, aspiring producers, including the likes of Lafran Veyrolles,
Gros’ Noré, Pibarnon and Begude. By law, Bandol Rouge must now
contain at least 50% Mourvèdre, but many serious producers will use
more than this.
But it is Spain that grows the lion’s share of Mourvèdre.
Known there as Monastrell, it’s the second most widely grown grape,
after Garnacha (Grenache). Producers there are just beginning to wake
up to Mourvèdre’s new cachet; will we soon see a wave of varietal
Mourvèdres from Spain marketed by the grape’s French name?
All is not rosy, however. Mourvedre is a challenging grape to
grow. The yield is irregular, and it has a reputation for ‘alternance’,
whereby one year produces a good yield, followed by a poor yield the
next. And whereas most grapes produce a commercial yield in three to
five years, you can be waiting as long as 10 years for Mourvèdre to
deliver. But small yields do deliver good colour, and when it’s not
excessively astringent and ripens properly (it needs warm climates),
it makes some fairly serious wine.
What are the flavour characteristics of Mourvèdre? Look for
leathery, herby, spicy notes on the nose. In the new world there is
often some sweetness, too. On the palate think savoury. Part of the
reason that this has been so successful as a blending grape is that it
provides a spicy, savoury structure that complements the richness of
Grenache and Syrah grown in warm climates. It’s not an excessively
fruity grape, and in some cases can contribute slightly gamey, almost
animal-like flavours, especially in younger wines.
The wines featured below were tasted ‘single-blind’. This
means that while the wines were served blind, we knew which ones were
included in the tasting. It’s a fun exercise matching them up, and I
scored pretty well. I got 7/9 correct, although I think I should be
awarded half a mark for wine 4, for which I gave two options, one of
which was correct. The group favourites were wines 9 and 6, which
shows that groups don’t always get it right: wine 9, the Bonny Doon
Old Telegram 1998 was not one of the better wines on show here
by a large margin. Notes are as written (blind), with the real
identity in bold at the end of each note.
My three favourites were all from Provence, and two of these
are from Bandol. The 1998 Lafran-Veyrolles Bandol Cuvée Longue Garde
is delicious now and will no doubt improve. Already with some bottle
age, the 1994 Tempier Cabassaou is beginning to show some lovely
herby/spicy complexity, and will just keep getting better. The third
wine is the wonderfully intense Domaine la Courtade, from a small
island just off the Provençale coast; quite pricey at around £17,
but worth it.
Spicy, dusty notes on the nose, which is dry, savoury and a
little leathery. Very dry on the palate with dusty tannins, good
acidity and good density. Quite hard and tight at the moment, but with
potential. Very good+ Domaine Rocalière
Lirac 1998 Southern Rhône (this is a special cuvee they
make which is a varietal Mourvèdre, although they are not allowed to
say this on the label)
Quite intense liquoricey/herby nose with some lush menthol
notes in the background, and a touch of vanilla and cinnamon.
Intruiging. Rich ‘new world’ palate has some tannin and a dry
finish. Some tannin and an attractive herbiness. Interesting stuff,
with some varietal character showing through: it’s the D’Arenberg.
Very good+ D’Arenberg Mourvèdre 1998
McLaren Vale, Australia
Ripe, liquoricey nose with some spicy, peppery notes.
There’s an attractive savouriness to it. Pretty interesting palate
shows spicy, dry tannins and a savoury, earthy, herbal complexity.
Quite expressive; not fruit driven. Old world, this is the Courtade.
Very good/excellent Domaine La Courtade 1999
Côtes de Provence
Deliciously deep herbal edge with some lush berry fruit and
spicy/savoury notes. The palate is rich, modern and sweetly fruited,
with some coffee-like overtones. There’s some oak here and it’s
quite alcoholic. Tasty stuff. Very good+ From the USA I suspect, but I
can’t decide whether this is the Jade Mountain or the Bonny Doon.
It’s not the Ridge though. Jade
Mountain Mourvèdre 1996, Mt Veeder, California
Quite muted initially, but with a meaty, leathery,
tobaccoey depth to the nose. A little bit baked; very leathery. The
palate is quite evolved, with more sweet tobaccoey character and some
caramel-like notes. Quite unusual. Very good. I think this is the
Jumilla. Bodegas San Isidro Gémina Reserva
1995, Jumilla, Spain
Lovely spicy, leathery notes dominate the nose, and
there’s quite ripe fruit here with some depth and intensity. It’s
rich, leathery and earthy on the palate with a dry finish. Impressive
stuff, with lots of depth, some power and complexity. Very
good/excellent This is the Lafran Veyrolles I suspect. Domaine
Lafran Veyrolles Cuvée Longue Garde 1998 Bandol
This kicks off with a big blast of vanilla-laced sweet oak:
it’s a big wine, almost opulent, but with some herby, leathery notes
underneath the sweetness. The palate is balanced and savoury, if a
touch alcoholic on the finish. Tasty stuff; ripe and rich. Very good+
I’m guessing that this is the Ridge. Ridge
Bridgehead Mataro 1997 Santa Cruz Mountains, California
Toasty, savoury cinnamon-laced nose with an attractive roasted
coffee edge. There’s a bit of spiciness too. The palate is spicy and
balanced, with good acid and a savoury character. Good length, too, to
this sweetly spiced wine. Very good/excellent I reckon this is the
Tempier. Domaine Tempier Cabassaou 1994
Initially slightly muted nose opens up to reveal slightly
alcoholic, brambly fruit with a liquorice and vanilla edge. Attractive
ripe, herby palate with chalky tannins and a dry finish. Very new
world and quite alcoholic. Very good. The Jade Mountain? Bonny
Doon Old Telegram 1998, California
Wines tasted at La Vigneronne, shown by Liz Berry MW, 20
Contact details: La Vigneronne, 105 Brompton Road, London SW7 3LE
Phone: 020 7589 6113 E-mail: email@example.com
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