Mourvèdre has a meaty richness and wonderful longevity. Its intense animal quality is often enhanced by blending with the rich fruit of Grenache and the structure, spice, and power of Syrah.
Known as Monastrell in its native Spain, Mourvèdre is second there only to Grenache (Garnacha) in importance. From the Spanish town of Murviedro, near Valencia, Mourvèdre was brought to Provence in the late Middle Ages where, prior to the phylloxera invasion at the end of the 19th century, it was the dominant varietal.
The spread of phylloxera throughout the vineyards of France was particularly devastating to Mourvèdre. While most of the other Rhône varietals were easily matched with compatible rootstocks, Mourvèdre proved difficult to graft with the phylloxera-resistant stock. So as they replanted their vineyards, most producers around the Mediterranean coast replanted with varieties like Grenache and Cinsault that were easier to graft.
For decades, Mourvèdre in France was found almost exclusively in the sandy (and phylloxera-free) soil of Bandol, on the French Mediterranean coast, where it is bottled both as a red wine (blended with Grenache and Cinsault) and as a dry rosé.
Compatible rootstocks for Mourvèdre were developed only after World War II. Shortly thereafter, Jacques Perrin of Château de Beaucastel led regeneration efforts in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and made Mourvèdre a primary grape in the red Beaucastel wines (where it still plays a leading role). Since the late 1960s, total plantings in Southern France have increased dramatically.
Mourvèdre came to the New World as Mataro (a name taken from a town near Barcelona where the varietal was grown) in the mid to late 1800s. In Australia, it found a home in the Barossa Valley and in California it was first established in Contra Costa County. Until recently, the grape was rarely bottled by itself, and was instead generally used as a component of field blends. The increasing popularity and prestige of Rhône varietals and a return to the French Mourvèdre name has given the varietal a new life. Currently about 800 acres are planted in California.
Mourvèdre is a late-ripening varietal that flourishes with hot summer temperatures. Its lateness makes it less vulnerable to late spring frosts. In the vineyard, Mourvèdre is a moderately vigorous varietal that does not require a great deal of extra care. The vines tend to grow vertically, making Mourvèdre an ideal candidate for head-pruning (the method traditional to Châteauneuf-du-Pape), although vines can also be successfully trellised. When head-pruned, the weight of the ripening grapes pulls the vines down like the spokes of an umbrella, providing the ripening bunches with ideal sun exposure.
Flavors and Aromas
Wines made from Mourvèdre are intensely colored, rich and velvety with aromas of dark red fruits (particularly plums, currants, and cherries), leather, game, and truffles. Their skins are particularly high in antioxidants, which allow Mourvèdre-based wines to age well despite their relatively supple tannins.
The animal, game-like flavors present in young Mourvèdres can be so strong that they are occasionally mistaken for the bacteria Brettanomyces. In a well-made Mourvèdre, these flavors should resolve into aromas of forest floor and leather with aging. Although it is increasingly bottled as a single varietal, the intense animal quality of Mourvèdre is often improved by the warmth and fruit of Grenache and the structure, spice and tannin of Syrah. Mourvèdre-based wines pair well with grilled and roasted meats, root vegetables, mushrooms and dark fowl such as duck: flavors that harmonize with the earthiness of the wine.