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  • Mourv-ing On Up

    As I continue with my pandemic response plan of hiding in my wine cellar until the world returns to normal, there have been many discoveries of long-forgotten bottles in the dusty corners.  This week’s find was a bottle of Mourvèdre, also known as Monastrell.

    The true origins of the grape are lost in the wine-soaked mists of time, but wine historians think the grape originated in the Valencia region of Spain around 500BCE, and later spread to neighbouring France.  

    Referred to as Monastrell in Spain, it is the fourth most widely planted red grape, coming in after Tempranillo, Bobal, and Garnacha.  Across the border in France, the grape is referred to as Mourvèdre, the name that has become more popular internationally.  

    The grape varietal was nearly wiped out in the phylloxera blight that decimated the vineyards of Europe in the 1870s, as it was more difficult to graft onto the louse-resistant American rootstock that proved to be the salvation of the European wine industry.  Fortunately, a concerted effort in the 1970s saw increased plantings and a resurgence in popularity, both in Europe and the New World.

    The Mourvèdre grape thrives in hot climates, so it has done well in several New World wine regions, especially Australia, South Africa, and California.  There are even a few small plantings here in Canada, in the desert-like microclimate near Osoyoos in the Okanagan Valley of BC.

    While sometimes bottled as a single varietal, it is more common to find the so-called GSM blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre, usually in ratios around 50+40+10%.  The small portion of Mourvèdre bulks up the tannin level in the lighter Grenache, with the Syrah providing added complexity, resulting in a tremendously popular blend that is more than the sum of its parts.  

    I do recall enjoying a local Canadian version of a GSM blend at the family-owned Bartier Brothers winery when visiting the Okanagan Valley back in those carefree pre-pandemic times, but it is sadly not available at Alberta retailers, so I will be waiting with bated breath until travel becomes safe again.  Priced at $40 due to the small plantings, this Canadian offering was more of a special occasion wine than a daily drinker, with international versions typically in the $20-$30 range.

    Courageous winemakers realize that the high levels of tannins in Mourvèdre make it a good candidate for extended aging as a single varietal bottling, with the extra time in oak barrels to soften the bitter edge for a smoother wine.  I enjoy a single varietal bottling for its big and bold presence, which pairs delightfully with grilled meats, smoked BBQ, and other savoury foods.

    With abundant natural sugars, the Mourvèdre grape tends to ripen later in the season than other varietals, producing a high alcohol wine with plenty of tannins.  If you are a fan of bold reds like Cab Sauv, you will also enjoy Mourvèdre.  As the ancestral home, Spain still the most acres under vine, with France a close second.  

    Differences in terroir and vinification make the Spanish offerings typically a bit less tannic and more approachable when bottled as a single varietals, while the French winemakers seem to prefer blending with Grenache and Syrah for a more balanced wine.  I have enjoyed both in the past, but lean towards the Spanish offerings as they are usually priced more reasonably than their French equivalents.  Faithful readers may recall that Spanish wines tend to be aged a few years longer than their French counterparts at the same price point, so make regular appearances in my wine cellar.  

    While looking for a bottle for the weekly Zoom call with my pandemic posse, I found a 2012 Mourvèdre from France in a dusty corner of my wine cellar, and quickly popped the cork to be greeted with an intense bouquet of peppercorns and black fruits, toasty hints of cedar smoke from the vanillin compounds in the barrel, and spicy notes on the finish.  A big and bold red wine, I paired it with grilled Spolumbo sausages and sharp cheese, and sang its praises to my drinking companions that were logged in from the safety of their respective homes.

    The best plantings are from the Rhône region of France and the Jumilla region of Spain, so find a bottle in the appropriate aisle of your friendly neighbourhood booze merchant and try a Mourvèdre / Monastrell for yourself!