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3 Names – one seriously neglected grape variety

Setting ourselves up for autumn reds, today’s peek “under the radar” looks at a variety that manifests itself in dozens of blends but is seldom allowed out on its own as a varietal.  

Nevertheless, it was a surprise to discover that no mourvedre is currently listed in unblended format in any of the “big four” supermarkets.

Even the terrific Les Jamelles Mourvedre seems to have disappeared from the High Street.

Admittedly the grape’s demands as a sun worshipper (it seldom ripens fully even in some parts of the Southern Rhone) make difficulties – as do its fussiness about soils and the challenges it poses within the winery once harvested.

Nevertheless, get it right and its herbal, bramble influenced richness can provide lovely wine – often for relatively little money.

Thought to be an early favourite with monks around Valencia (hence its Spanish name – monastrell), it was best known for the power and slight rusticity it adds to GSM Rhone blends – until recently that is!.

Nowadays, a group of little known appellations around Murcia (just south of Valencia) have dedicated themselves to creating quality monastrell – and very successful they are at it.

Indeed, I commended several good options involving the variety in my post about Spain a few weeks ago.

Here, though, is a more detailed look at the variety.

As normal, this site uses images and hyperlinks are used where possible to make the wine easier to recognise and, potentially, to buy.  

Starting near monastrell’s original hometown

Although winemakers in Alicante (two hour’s drive from Valencia) also use monastrell to produce a local rival to oloroso sherry, it was there that the “let’s make brilliant monastrell table wine” thinking seems to have begun.

So, here is a very successful but inexpensive example of what they set out to achieve.

Dark in colour yet attractively floral, 2019 Tarima Monastrell Alicante (from £7.99 at Majestic and 14%) exhibits bright bramble, damson and elderberry flavours accompanied by firm tannin (but lively acidity) with black pepper, eucalyptus and vanilla components and a hint of sweetness. 

Three from a nearby area

The tight knot of relatively small wine regions just inland from Alicante is as much a magnet for visitors as the Mediterranean beaches themselves, hence the development of Murcia Wine Tours like this one – featured in the 3 minute video embedded in a blog post.

A frequently encountered place in any such tour is Yecla – a tiny area some 50 kms away from the coast where monastrell really prospers and which is home to the next three wines.

Concentrated and with appealing coffee aromas, 2019 Tapa Roja Old Vines Monastrell (£7 at M&S and 13.5%) brings us soft red plum and blackcurrant flavours supported by good acidity and judiciously balanced tannin but with hints of mint, clove, liquorice and oregano too.

Increasing the altitude

For the next example, we consider wine from some of Yecla’s higher vineyards and one that gives us fuller, earthier flavours from older vines and for which you will need to visit (possibly online) one of the UK’s band of excellent independents.  

2019 Familla Castano Hecula Monastrell (£10.99 at Noble Grape and 14%)  contains elderberry and prune flavours partnered by herbal based savouriness, good acidity (but limited tannin) and touches of olives, black pepper and liquorice. 

And going organic

The final Yecla option is also made by the acclaimed Castano operation but is organic (an approach that seems to work well in hotter, drier conditions like those in Yecla) and represents the style at its best – and was my favourite among the inexpensive monastrells I tried.

Smooth with attractive traces of sweetness, 2019 Parcelas Ecologico Barrica Monastrell (£7.95 at The Wine Society and 14%) provides minty mulberry and blackberry flavours embellished with sage, nutmeg and aniseed elements, good acidity but limited tannin. 

Across the Pyrenees

True to their Burgundian homelands, Catherine and Laurent Delaunay produce excellent chardonnay and pinot noir, having worked hard to find suitable sites for these varieties in Languedoc.

They also make wine from other varieties (many under the Les Jamelles name I mentioned earlier) and this is one they produce from mourvedre grapes – rather than seeing them used as blending partners.

Intense and rich, 2018 Abbotts & Delaunay Mourvedre Les Fleurs Sauvages (£10.75 at The Real Wine Company and 13% abv) has raspberry and damson flavours that combine nicely with its firm acidity (but gentle tannin) and with the wine’s suspicions of mocha, lavender and savoury herbs.  

Next, a Quiz Question

Are the world’s oldest surviving mourvedre vines in Spain or France?

Answer: Neither – Australia’s Barossa Valley has a block of those vines (called mataro in the new world) that dates from 1853.

As elsewhere, the variety demands a hot, dry climate and (also as elsewhere) much of it finishes up in blends but …

Several Australian and Californian producers do make excellent varietal mataro which tends to be richer and more complex than European versions.

Although it is encouraging that the variety now seems to have caught the imagination of younger winemakers, the downside of these more concentrated wines is that they are usually more specialist offerings and can be dearer.

Let’s look at two of them

The Turkey Flat operation has been tending vines for around 175 years  and for most of that time (as now) has been in the hands of the Schulz family producing largely “Rhone variety” red wines and with a great record of experimentation.

Perfumed and sophisticatedly rounded, 2018 Turkey Flat Mataro (£22 at Wine Direct and 14.3%) is one example of that readiness to be unorthodox, delivering smoky mulberry and bramble flavours with good acidity but balanced tannin and traces of cocoa, clove and sage.

And another example

Although the Duval family has a similarly long farming history, John Duval was the first family member to transition into winemaking.

After over 15 years as Chief Winemaker at Penfolds, he started John Duval Wines producing high quality shiraz and GSM blends, for instance, and adding mataro to his wine list in 2016.

Lighter and slightly smoother than the Turkey Flat, 2017 John Duval Wines Annexus (£36.99 at Simply Wines  and 13.5%) offers us intense plum and blackcurrant flavours complemented by orange zest acidity and gentle tannin together with suggestions of oregano, mint, nutmeg and delicate hints of sweetness.

In summary

So, whatever name it bears, here is a versatile grape offering great value (but underappreciated) everyday wine that can also step up to the plate with brilliant “special occasion” wine to grace any event.

Join me again on Monday for my recommended Top Tips and for a whistle stop tour of supermarket promotions.


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Comments

4 Comments

David Cronin

Great wines there Brian from an area close to my heart with my Mother born in Cartegena in Murcia and in-laws in Valencia. I think Monastrell can often offer better value (if not the reputation) than a lot of the popular Spanish grapes including Tempranillo. If anyone enjoys big full flavoured, (often high in Alcohol) juicy spicy reds then Monastrell may well fit the bill, all the Spanish ones you mention I’ve tasted and particularly enjoyed the ‘Hecula’ and worth seeking out. The Tarima is pretty good as well, if a little more tannic. As you mentioned in an post a few weeks ago the ‘Familia Pacheco’ is a great introduction to the grape even if it has a touch of Syrah in the blend. I’ve been shouting out the praises for Monastrell with friends lately, I think they’re beginning to get it, worth exploring if anyone’s not tasted it yet.

Brian Elliott

I am really impressed by its capablility to match £40 wines on one hand yet still provide good value options for everyday drinking.

Marc Williams

Hi Brian hope you are well! Great article and I agree a grape that is often over looked. That organic version from the wine society will be going in my basket on the next order. Cheers. Marc

Brian Elliott

It certainly impressed me (as one who is not always bowled over by organic wine) and no trace whatsoever in the sample I had of the problems one or two Wine Society members encountered when the wine first arrived – and mention on the Society’s website. Great to hear from you again Marc …. Brian


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