Mourvedre, notes and some TX Examples

Written on 03/13/2022
Amie Nemec

Mourvedré is a great wine for lovers of a bold Cabernet.  The grape is a bit complex, as it is known by many different names.  Referred to as Mourvedré in France and Alicante, Spain, but called Monastrell in the rest of Spain.  Rumor has it, during the late 1800s, ships that carried plantings labeled with the region they came from, which was Mataro, and thus the Americans used Mataro when referring to the grape.  Going back in history, we’ll also see references to Damas Noir, Pinot Fleri, Torrentes, Monastre and Mourves and all of these names are pointing to the same grape.

Some accounts credit the Mourvedre grape as being brought to Valencia, Spain by the Phoenicians as early as 500 B.C.  The French-adapted name Mourvedre, probably derived from Murviedro and the Spanish name Mataro comes from the region of Mataro, Catalonia where the grape was prolific for decades.  It also became known as Monastrell in Spain for a reason that has yet to be explained in history.  Most current bottlings from Spain will carry the name Monastrell, and France caries the name Mourvedre.  The other names are seldom used these days.

One of the major grapes of the Rhone Valley, along with Grenache and Syrah, Mourvedre is typically used for blending in a Cote du Rhone or the famed Chateauneuf du Pape.  In other regions, you’ll see it used in blends we refer to as GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre).  The Bandol region of Provence has produced exceptional Mourvedre because of the particularly dark fruit that develops in this region.  Rose are also traditionally made from this varietal in this region.

You’ll find 190,000 acres of Mourvedre planted worldwide, with nearly 150,000 in Spain alone.  Found in the regions of Jumilla, Alicante and Almansa, the grape is typically used for sparkling Cava.  South Australia grows about 25,000 acres.  And the U.S. currently shows just over 1,000 acres currently.  The vines first arrived in California in the 1860s and were used primarily for bulk production jug wines.  Those known as California’s “Rhone Rangers” began seeking out quality old-vine Mourvedre as part of the efforts to focus on Rhone blends in central California in the 1990s and early 2000s.  The grape is sun-loving, so it is doing quite well in Texas, used for blending, single varietal and rose wines.  Small vineyards can be found in New South Wales and South Africa, so keep an eye on these areas for future releases.

Above all other grapes, Provence was most widely planted in Mourvedre prior to the phylloxera outbreak of the late 19th century.  When the French vineyards were replanted, most growers chose varietals that proved easier to graft onto existing root stock for a quicker return.  
Southern Spain was drastically affected by Phylloxera in 1989 and is just recently recovered.  The Monastrell vines are currently being offered for sale to the U.S. from Yecla, Jumilla and Alicante for prices as low at $10…good to know if you happen to be interested in planting a vineyard in a warm climate.  In recent years, growers in Spain have begun replacing many Spanish varietals with the better-known French grapes that carry more of a cult following, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.  While the acreage in Spain is lower than it once was, Monastrell is still the primary red grape in the Dos of Jumilla, Yecla, Valencia, Almansa and Alicante.
As a thick-skinned grape, Mourvedre ripens very late in the season.  The vines thrive in sunshine and is relatively drought-tolerant, making it ideal for warm growing regions.  The vines do much better in a clay-like soil that holds water.  In cool climates or cooler vintages, the fruit can struggle to come to full ripeness.  
You’ll find Mourvedre to express notes of dark fruits, black pepper, violets, dried roses, earth, gravel and smoke.  Those wines labeled as Mataro will typically reveal flavors such as currents, blackberries, blueberries and plum that are expressed more as fruit that has been cooked rather than fresh.  And those bottlings labeled as Monastrell are often referred to as ‘gamey,’ or what the French refer to as ‘animal.’
Wine makers must take care when producing wines from Mourvedre, as the fruit is prone to oxidative and reductive flavors such as hydrogen sulfide.  This can be a way of identifying the grape in a blind tasting.  In Bandol, France, it is common to ferment the grapes with the stems.  But in the new world, the harsher green tannins that are present in the stems means that the fruit is generally not fermented in full clusters.  The wine is typically aged in barrels, but it does not tend to absorb much of the flavors, so neutral oak or large format barrels are typically used. 
Because of the medium to high acidity and tannins, Mourvedre tends to be a good food wine.  Red meats such as beef short ribs and barbecue are perfect with this bold wine.  Lamb and game such as rabbit, deer and exotics will hold up well.  Provincial herbs such as rosemary and thyme can really enhance the subtleties of the wine.  
Here are some of my personal favorites:
Adega Vinho 2017 PinoFleri – Texas High Plains ($29) Adega Vinho is a family business with a focus on small production Texas wines. The 2017 vintage is all fruit sourced by High Plains growers and totaled 1,500 cases of all the wines combined. They used the production facilities at Ron Yates and Pedernales Cellars. Also in 2017, the estate was planted with Mourvedre, Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional, Sangiovese and Arinto, and they currently have 7.5 acres under vine; ABV 11.5%
Bar Z 2014 Mourvedre – Texas High Plains ($42) Owner and Winemaker Monty Dixon has a beautiful facility in Canyon, Texas, just on the edge of the Palo Duro Canyon state park. His estate vines were obliterated by the pesticides used on nearby cotton fields, so all of his grapes are sourced from the High Plains from Martin Vineyard. Fermented with BRL97 yeast with extended maceration with daily stirring and underwent partial malolactic. Aged in new French barrels for just over 5 years, racked 7 times and then settled in tanks for another 6 months. Bottled unfiltered with a yield of 320 cases. Monty got his start in winemaking back in 4th grade, when he discovered a book on how to make wine! He will be in town April 3-5 and will be pouring with us Fridy & at Vintner’s Hideaway Saturday. This wine was the last he made using new oak and he now uses only neutral barrels and remains unfiltered for all of his wines; ABV 13.5%
Bodegas Juan Gil Honoro Vera 2018 Monastrell – Spain ($21) from HEB. Since 1916, when Juan Gil Jimenez built his winery, the company has remained in the family, although it’s grown to several labels. They maintain a focus on quality and pride. Now in the fourth generation, the vineyards thrive in hot summers with intense sun and often 25 degrees of diurnal shift in a day. At 2,300 feet, the soils are dry, made of limestone. They receive little rainfall, but hold their water well, which forces the vines to stress for water, creating great intensity of flavors. This bottling is one of the lower priced by the Bodega and is made from the younger vines; ABV 14%
Bodega Luzon 2018 Monastrell – Jumilla, Spain ($16) Family owned since 1916, this Spanish winery focuses on using technology paired with old world practices.  The vineyard and winery are Certified Organic.  Their wine making practices carefully remove stems from the grapes so as to prevent a raw greenness in the finished wines.  Every varietal is individually fermented and blended just before bottle aging.  The region of Jumilla is in south-eastern Spain, on a high plateau surrounded by mountains.  The climate is influences by the Mediterranean Sea with warm days and cool nights.  With over 3,000 hours of sunshine annually, grapes tend to reach a full ripeness to lend rich flavors in all of these wines; ABV 14%
Domaine du Gros Nore’ 2017 Bandol – Bandol, Rhone Valley, France ($46) 75% Mourvedre & 25% a blend of Grenache, Cinsault & Carignan. Domain du Gros Nore’ is perched on the village of the Cadiere d’Azur, founded in 1595 around a small military fort. Wines made in this region are small production, grown along limestone hills. Red wines in the region must be at least 50% Mourvedre, but also allowed are Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah & Carignan. These wines are made to have strong but balanced tannins with ripe fruit flavors; ABV 14.5%
Hilmy 2019 Mourvedre – Texas High Plains ($35) Open-top fermentation for 2 weeks on the skins before being pressed and barreled into new French. 6 barrels produced and close to being sold out; ABV 13.9%
Lost Draw 2017 Mourvedre – Lost Draw Vineyards, Texas High Plains ($48) Planted in 2005, Lost Draw Vineyards is now the second largest grower in the state with about 350 acres.  In 2012, the Lost Draw Vineyards grower, Andy Timmons, partnered with two other members of the family to open Lost Draw Cellars on a historic site in Fredericksburg. They now produce 20 wines with fruit from Lost Draw but also purchased from other reputable growers in the state. All production is here locally, and their team is committed to Texas! They consider Mourvedre the LDV flagship grape. This bottling was fermented 7 days on the skins and aged 21 months in neutral French; ABV 13.7%
Neyers 2017 Evangelho Vineyard Mourvedre – Contra Costa County, Napa, California ($40) Neyer’s is situated just east of the center of Napa Valley, and we visited the property 6 years ago, for our 14th anniversary. They believe in organic farming practices, natural yeasts and un-filterd finished wines. All of their harvests are hand-picked and sorted. There isn’t much Mourvedre planted in California, but Neyer’s loves to produce wine with this grape, and any time they find fruit available, they want it! This is one of their best bottlings, from 130 -vines at Frank Evangelho’s vineyard just outside of Oakley. The soil is sandy and yields are low, with high quality of fruit; ABV 13.4% 
Sandy Road 2018 Mourvedre – Texas High Plains ($34) Sandy Road Vineyards is family owned & operated by two native Texas families, Reagan and Kristina Sivadon, and Bryan and Adrienne Chagoly.  Adrienne and Kristina are sisters, and their family has owned the Dixon Ranch, on Sandy Road, for almost 100 years.  The family began to cultivate a vision of expert winemaking and passionate farming to grow the best Texas wines.  Reagan and Ron are childhood best friends, and after years of working with his dad in construction, Reagan took the leap into wine and started working for Ron at Spicewood Vineyards in the vineyard and the cellar.  Eventually, Reagan became associate winemaker under Todd Crowell, Head Winemaker. Together they are responsible for the production of all wines at both Spicewood Vineyards and Ron Yates Wines.  After years of learning from the best, Reagan grew confident that he could leave his own unique mark on Texas wine, and in 2016, the family started planting Sandy Road Vineyards in an effort to be able to shepherd the entire process of winemaking from working in the vineyard to crafting fine Texas wine in the cellar.  Reagan and his family believe the best wines are grown sustainably in the vineyard with respect, harvested by hand, and produced in small lots with the individual attention of the winemaker. Their mission is to bring the highest quality farming and winemaking to Texas wines and to continuously help raise your expectations for fine Texas wine; ABV 14.6%
Skinner 2016 Mourvedre – El Dorado, California ($30) James Skinner grew up in Scotland, became an engineer, and in 1842 brought his wife and oldest son to Massachusetts.  Like many American immigrants, they made their way west during the Gold Rush.  And, like many miners, James started near Coloma, where gold was discovered, then moved up the streams and rivers of the low Sierra foothills, and, did well enough to buy land and create Skinner Ranch in what is now the town of Rescue. In the 1860s, it was named Skinners, California, and remains an unincorporated township that still appears on most maps.  The ranch had livestock and crops and ran along a well-traveled road that became the Pony Express Trail (now Green Valley Road). In 1861, James began making good use of his transportation hotspot – he planted vineyards and founded the J. Skinner Native Wine and Brandy Co.  This was one of the first commercial vineyards in California and by 1883, one of the largest.  James planted the popular grapes of the time that grew well in his region – including Mission, Zinfandel, and several grapes of southern France such as 
Grenache, Carignane and the now-obscure Petit Bouschet (the only remaining clone in the world is the Skinner Clone).  All of those legacy grape varietials are again planted on the land of our modern Skinner Vineyards & Winery, and the focus of winemaking now, just as it was for J. Skinner Native Wine and Brandy Co., are the grapes of southern France known as Rhones.  On 2007, Mike and Carey Skinner reclaimed the family legacy and began the modern Skinner Vineyards project.  Among winemakers, Skinner has a reputation of crafting quality wines from the Rhone varietals and blends; ABV 13.6%
Stone House 2017 Mourvedre – Barossa Valley, Australia ($30) The owner of Stone House actually lives between Fredericksburg and Austin, having most of her wines made back home in Australia and imported to them here in Texas.  They also grow a Norton grape on their Texas property, and use it for two red ones.  And, they bring in some grapes from California to make a few California wines as well.  It’s a beautiful property, and they make high quality wines, from around the world! In this bottle, because it comes from Australia, it would normally be called Matero, but since they know the name Mourvedre has better name recognition here, they decided to stick with this name for the labeling.  The wine is made in southern Australia and is nicely balanced between our Texas and Spanish examples; ABV 13.5%
Remember that from different regions, these wines can have decidedly different notes. The bolder examples typically come from Spain with the lighter bodied examples from France. Texas and Australia fall somewhere in the middle. Cheers y’all!