Meet Mourvèdre.

Hi. I’m Mourvèdre. A Red Rhône wine.
I can be a bit sulky,
but once you get to know me, you’ll understand.
I like long ripening seasons in hot, dry climates.
I’m looking for a stand-alone bottling, but am open to blending.
Uncork me, and let’s get cozy with some big unami flavors.

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At the 2016 Paso Robles Rhone Rangers Experience I recently attended, there were 41 wineries, each pouring an average of four wines each. It didn’t take long to do the math and realize I needed a focused plan if I wanted to do any meaningful tasting.

I settled on trying all the Mourvèdre in the room. “The whaaat?” you ask.

On its own, this is an unappreciated wine grape, but it’s one of my favorites. Though it’s gaining in popularity as a stand-alone varietal, it’s taken a while to get there. The revered Frank Schoonmaker had little admiration for it in the 1974 edition of his Encyclopedia of Wine.

“MOURVÈDRE—Red wine grape. See Mataró.” Under the Mataró listing, it reads “… it generally gives a rather coarse wine and ranks on a par with the Carignan.”

High praise indeed.

Fast forward to one of the present day gurus of wine, Jancis Robinson. She gives the grape considerable due in her writings, and even credits the enthusiasm of the American Rhône Rangers in rescuing Mourvèdre in the 1970s and bringing it back to the adults’ table.

So what exactly IS Mourvèdre?

First of all, it’s daunting to pronounce. Any Spanish speakers need to throw their rules about vowels right out the window and realize this is a truly French word – as in you don’t really pronounce all the letters. Purists may quibble with me, but just say “Moor-ved.” Baby steps. You can get more polished with the accent later. This is about understanding the wine, and you can’t understand it if you’re reticent about ordering it. (In its native Spain, btw, this variety is also known as Monastrell.)

As for the grape itself. It’s one of the 22 recognized Rhône wine varieties, and is actually one of the three most common plantings along with Grenache and Syrah. However, it usually takes a back seat to both of those, playing the ragged Cinderella when it’s blended with both of those two showier stepsisters. (The blends are often referred to as “GSMs” due to the relative percentage of each varietal used in the wine.)

Mourvèdre is earthy and moody; think of a darker shadow to Pinot Noir, which is equally earthy and moody but can be quite the seductress. Both can pair with many of the same foods – grilled and braised meats, mushroom dishes, etc. – but since Mourvèdre is typically a far more tannic wine, it can really cut through fatty foods such as short ribs and sausage.

Unlike Pinot Noir, which can be extremely finicky when it comes to handling, Mourvèdre is pretty low maintenance once you get it harvested. The trick is to be able to let this late-budding grape get fully ripened, especially when considering it as a stand-alone varietal bottling.

With that in mind, it was interesting to see which Mourvèdres were my favorites at the Rhone Rangers event. A 2012 had an odd last note of Dr. Pepper, a 2014 tasted musty, and a N/V (Non-vintage, wines from at least two years blended) was too big and had an odd finish.

Save for one, all the rest were 2013s, and were just right. Looking back on that growing season, that’s not a surprise. It was a great year for California grape growers. Bud break was well past frost danger and the season that followed was long and hot, but not scorching. Near perfect conditions for Mourvèdre.

Here were some standouts from the tasting, in alphabetical order, 100% Mourvèdre unless noted:

Cypher Winery 2013 El Pelon – classic profiles of earthy, blue fruit.

Powell Mountain Cellars 2011 – light in color, but spicy nose and very well balanced. This vintage was an outlier; 2011 wasn’t a great year overall, but late to start and ended about mid-November – perhaps why this Mourvèdre was lighter than most, but still offered a fairly typical profile.

Sculpterra Winery 2013 – a BIG wine, probably due to the addition of 12% Petit Sirah.

sevenoxen

Seven Oxen 2013 – this label was a new one to me, and a pleasant surprise. The Mourvèdre offered its signature earthy foundation, while just a 10% touch of Grenache kept the wine from getting too bogged down.

Tablas Creek 2013 – classically earthy, but with notes of bright briar. This label always presents spot-on varietal interpretations, and they have made a solid commitment to Mourvèdre. If you’re uncertain about launching into exploring this particular grape, this is a good place to start. Tablas Creek tries to bottle a Mourvèdre each year, but if the vintage doesn’t merit it, no dice.

I hope you’ll give this grape variety a try. Granted, it may not be for everyone, and if not … plus Mourvèdre por moi!!

— Katy Budge

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to reflect something new that I learned after my original post — “variety” is used when referring to the grape itself, “varietal” when referring to the wine made from a grape variety.

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