Mark Aselstine
 
July 2, 2012 | Mark Aselstine

Mourvedre

Mourvedre  is an interesting grape type for a number of reasons.  To start, almost every wine drinker has had Mouvedre in a wine they’ve tasted, although only a small portion have ever had a varietal specific Mourvedre.

The reason for that is quite simple, from its beginnings in Spain (according to most genealogical histories, in the Catalonia region along the Spanish/French border) but more importantly in the Rhone Valley of France, Mourvedre has been a blending grape.

It’s often including with Syrah and Grenache in GSM blends, some of which have become increasingly famous within the wine world, especially with a GSM being named Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year in 2010. That specific wine was a Saxum effort from the famed James Berry Vineyard in Paso Robles.  Wine critic Robert Parker counts the James Berry Vineyard among the top five in the state, in effect calling them one of California’s Grand Cru’s.  The simple fact that Mourvedre is given plantings in such an important vineyard says something about how the team at Saxum feels about the grape and its long term prospects.

In any case, Mourvedre is set to gain market share.  To start, it’s a relatively easy grape to grow and it reacts well to warmer temperatures which are becoming a larger and larger concern for vintners. There are a number of reasons for its performance with warmer temperatures, not the least of which is an extended hang time, which helps to allow the grape to gain higher sugar levels and therefore higher alcohol levels. While there is always going to be debate about appropriate levels of alcohol in wine, no one can argue the amazing consumer and critical success being enjoyed by high alcohol California wines.  Plus, as temperatures warm alcohol levels increase.

As you might expect, great Mouvedre’s are still relatively difficult to find.  In some ways, it’s still a cult grape among the winemaking community.  Given that the entire set of Rhone varietals was virtually extinct in California in the mid 1980’s until the Rhone Rangers saved them, there is still plenty of room to grow,

Some of our favorite Mourvedre’s and Mourvedre blends:

Saxum: Personally, any conversation about great Mourvedre has to start here for a number of reasons.  Saxum makes a variety of Mourvedre and GSM choices from a number of local Paso Robles vineyards, when you can get your hands on them, they’re one of the best American examples of the varietal. A recent Los Angeles Times article had a great quote from owner and winemaker Justin Smith “"Mourvèdre is great here," says Saxum owner-winemaker Smith. "Ever since the beginning, when we used to bottle things like Syrah as a varietal, we would throw Mourvèdre in it. As we learn more about it viticulturally, we're increasing the portion of it. It has texture and weight and ripeness. It's a great foil for Grenache, which is high-alcohol and high-acid in this area. Mourvèdre is lower in acid and alcohol, so they really work well together."

Terry Hoague: Yes, this is the former NFL star turned winemaker.  While the winery itself doesn’t specialize in Mourvedre, Saxum uses some vineyard space to grow the grape so the potential is obviously there.  Their “5 Blocks” Syrah seems to be increasing its Mourvedre component on a yearly basis, with the wine now containing more Mourvedre than Grenache.  Hoague crafts some of the most delicate wines in Paso Robles and is likely a winery which will continue to hone and expand Mourvedre production in the future.

Qupe Wines: Owner and winemaker Bob Lindquist is a legend in the Santa Barbara wine scene, largely responsible for the good standing of the warm climate AVA’s in and around Los Olivos and Solvang as well as the rest of the Santa Ynez Valley.  In any case, Qupe does produce a range of GSM blends from a variety of vineyard sites.  If you want to compare how Mouvedre affects a wine blend, this is a nice place to start since Qupe generally produces a varietal specific Syrah as well as a blend from each vineyard site.  Opening both bottles will give you a really good idea about the depth of color and dark plum flavors often imparted by a well grown Mourvedre. Qupe also makes wines at high enough production levels that they are generally available at fine wine stores across the country.

Quivira Vineyards: Quivira is among the most environmentally conscious wineries you’ll find anywhere.  From biodynamic farming practices to keeping pigs, chickens, bees and yes even a few turkey’s on the property to make sure the estate is sustainable over the long term.  While Quivira has been long focused on Zinfandel, one of their most unique and interesting wines is a Wine Creek Ranch Estate Mourvedre.  It’s one of the few true estate produced Mouvedre’s in California from a well known and respected winery.  Production is smaller as you might expect at only 300 cases per year, but this is a really, really nice intro into the grape at a surprisingly affordable price point of $32.

Ridge Vineyards: I think everyone who drinks wine consistently knows Ridge by now, starting with their outstanding results in the Judgment of Paris so many years ago.  The winery doesn’t make a varietal Mourvedre every year, but when it has in the past the grapes have been from the famed Monte Bello vineyard.  That alone makes a Ridge Mourvedre worth looking out for.  As a side note, Ridge along with a few other California vintners sometimes refer to the grape as Mataro, it’s French name.

McCrea Cellars: Doug McCrea has been incredibly nice to me since the beginning here at Uncorked Ventures although we’ve yet to feature one of his wines.  He’s considered most responsible for bringing Rhone varietals to the state of Washington and he certainly deserves credit for making an affordable Mourvedre ($28).  He’s also said numerous times that he thinks, long term that Mourvedre shows the most old world character of those Rhone grapes grown in Washington further speaking to his high opinion of the grape.

We hope this has helped to answer some of your questions about Mourvedre.  It's an interesting grape that's well worth the time to get to know, especially given the likely increasingly numbers of plantings coming in the future.

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