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Mourvèdre

Mourvèdre as a cultivated wine variety originated in Spain, where it is also called mataro or monastrell. Over 250,000 acres are planted there and, although many vineyards are intermingled with the bobal variety, only grenache outnumbers total monastrell acreage. It is the principal black grape of the five appellations that cluster on Spain's Southeastern Mediterranean Coast, Almansa, Valencia, Alicante, Jumilla, and Yecla. Prior to the late Nineteenth Century phyloxera devastation, mourvèdre was also widely planted in Southern France.

Monastrell cluster.There are contradictions and anomolies in the growth characteristics and properties of mourvèdre vines. Mourvèdre is a very late variety in both bud break and ripening season. It can recover quite well from Spring frosts, but sometimes succombs to cold Winter temperatures. It craves heat and survives in locations too windy for other varieties, but can be drought-sensitive.

Phylloxera nearly drove mourvèdre to extinction, because the vines took so poorly to grafting that most vineyardists deemed the results not worth the effort. Replanting did not begin seriously until following World War II, 60 years after the devastation, when sufficient vinestock was developed that had both adapted to grafting and had consistent production history.

Until the late 1960s, however, the main French plantings of mourvèdre were in Provence, where it is the dominant grape in Bandol. Total mourvèdre vineyards in France increased from under 2,200 acres in 1968 to nearly 14,000 by 1988.

Mourvèdre is a slow-ripening variety that develops tight bunches of grapes that need good ventilation to avoid rot. It seems to do best in windy climates like Southern France, in parts of Spain and Algeria, and in Australia, where it is called mataro.

Wine makers frequently use mourvèdre's dark, thick-skinned berries in blends to boost color and tannin, but often bemoan its absence of distinct flavors and proclivity to oxidation, which co-fermentation with other varieties can help to avoid. Beginning in the early 1980s, several Australian wineries popularized various blends of Grenache, Shiraz, and Mataro as "GSM" wines; the combination has also become common in California.

Unblended Mourvèdre wines tend to be deep-colored, quite tannic, although somewhat moderate in acid and alcohol, and have generally "earthy-spicy" aromas in their youth. The "gamey" aroma often found in mourvèdre may be accentuated by this variety's inclination to become contaminated with brettanomyces.

*Typical Mourvèdre Smell and/or Flavor Descriptors
*Typicity depends upon individual tasting ability and experience and is also affected by terroir and seasonal conditions, as well as viticultural and enological techniques. This list therefore is merely suggestive and neither comprehensive nor exclusive.

Varietal Aromas/Flavors:

Processing Bouquets/Flavors:

Spice: earth, thyme, clove, cinnamon, black pepper

Oak (heavy): oak, smoke, toast, tar, sweet wood

Faunal: animal, gamey, savory Faunal: animal (brettanomyces?)
Floral: violet  
Fruit: pomegranate, blackberry  

In California, mourvèdre was historically called mataro and was losing ground literally until the demand for Rhône-type varietals began to surge in the late 1980s. Even today, more than 60% of the 800+ acres planted statewide are in Madera, Contra Costa, and San Luis Obispo Counties.

by Jim LaMar



RESOURCES
1. Jancis Robinson (ed), Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd Edition, (Oxford University Press: London) 2006

2. Benjamin Lewin, Wine Myths and Reality, (Vendage Press: Dover, DE) 2010

4. Jancis Robinson (ed), Jancis Robinson's Guide to Wine Grapes, (Oxford University Press: New York) 1996

5. L. Peter Christensen, Nick K. Dokoozlian, M. Andrew Walker, James A Wolpert, et all. Wine Grape Varieties in California (University of California, Agricultural and Natural Resources Publications: Oakland) 2003

6. Charles Sullivan, A Companion to California Wine: An Encyclopedia of Wine and Winemaking from the Mission Period to the Present (University of California Press: Berkeley) 1998

8. Steven Spurrier & Michel Dovaz, Academie du Vin, Complete Wine Course (G.P. Putnam & Sons, New York) 1983

9. Harvey Steiman, Wine Spectator's: The Essentials Of Wine, (Wine Spectator Press: New York) 2000


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Created September 11, 2003; last updated May 27, 2012
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