Grown on less than 52,000 hectares worldwide, Mourvèdre is struggling to maintain its fifteen's position amongst the most most planted wine grape varieties in the world (1) but that might change with global warming. From its botanic birthplace in Spain, Mourvèdre spread to the warmest spots of Catalunya, Languedoc Roussillon, the Southern Rhône and the sandy soils of Bandol (Provence) where it was one of the last vine standing during the Phyloxera crisis. Mourvèdre is the "M" in GSM as it is so useful in the blend, but some (rare) single varietal Mourvèdre are being produced too. Here is the story of the grape, where it grows, how it's turned into wine and what to try out...
Whether you call it Mourvèdre, Monastrell or Mataro, all three names point to Spain when you search for origins: Mourvèdre (The name used in French) or Morvedre (In Catalan) direct to Murviedro, the ancient wine port in Valencia now called Sagunto. Monastrell refers to the local monastries of the middle ages, while Mataro evokes another town of Catalunya: Mataró. For some reasons, DNA testing has not been able to trace back its parents, so it is still sometimes believed to have been brought to Spain by the Phoenicians.
Monastrell is losing territory in some areas of Spain, but with a little over 40,000 ha, the country of origin still grows 80 percent of the world's planting. It is followed by France with less than 9,000 ha, but 80 percent of the "noise" due to the importance of the grape in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Bandol, to name a few. In Australia, Mataro is regaining traction with a little over 700 ha of planting and countries like the USA, (thanks to the Rhône Rangers), South Africa - each with around 500 ha - are planting more Mourvèdre. More recently, an increased number of producers in Chile, Israel, Argentina are experimenting with it.
After the Phyloxera crisis, it took a while for researchers to find the proper rootstock to graft Mourvèdre onto. As a result, many growers chose other varieties to re-plant. But Mourvèdre is a difficult grape to grow for several other reasons: First, it needs plenty of sunshine and heat, so only the warmest spots will do. Second, it has a tendency to grow vigorously, so water input must be controlled whenever possible and foliage might need to be removed around the fruit zone before harvest. Third, Monastrell's thick & tight skin protects it from fungal diseases, but will also prevents the grape from swelling: berries stay small, and if it rains too much, berries will crack. Forth, to fully ripe its crazy levels of tannin, harvest must be conducted late, at a time when alcohol potential can easily reach 15 or 16 percent, but if it's harvested too late, flavors become pruney and acidity might drop too low: so the window is small. Oh, and did I mention it is often gown "En Vasos" or "Goblet", making it impossible to harvest by machine? As you see, only the passionate growers will take the pain to pick it by hand, at night, of course... so it retains its fruity flavors).
Winemaking & Maturation
As previously stated, Mourvèdre is the "M" of the GSM blend, in most Southern Rhône, including Chateauneuf-du-Pape and the similar Australian styles. It is particularly useful to balance the thin-skinned Grenache which lacks the tannins, acidity and natural anti-oxidants. In France, some winemakers will include stems, but this is less true in Spain. Mourvèdre's deep color and high tannins, combined with black fruit & garrigue flavor are useful for longevity of Grenache-based wines and add some organoleptic complexity. In some region particularly susceptible to global warming, it has even taken over Syrah, which is normally considered finer. In truth, Syrah loses its finesse when temperature are too high while Mourvèdre is not offended by heat: au contraire! When maturing in oak barrels, Mourvèdre doesn't suck the vanilla from oak too well, but does soften its tannins with a few months or years in barrels.
Mourvèdre/ Monastrell/ Mataro- based Wines
Wines with a high percentage of Mourvèdre tend to be deep purple in their youth and evolving toward ruby and garnet with age. On the nose, Spanish examples from Valencia, Yecla, Jumilla, Almansa tend to display black fruit scented wines, while wines from the Languedoc Roussillon or Bandol might show a bit more complexity with garrigue scents, animal notes, meatiness and leather with age.
On the palate, the wines are generally massive: Full-bodied with high levels of smooth tannins and the best example can give a lingering complex finish where black fruit and animal notes intermingle. The wines are great with game, BBQ, fatty or gelatinous meats, stews and earthy foods.
What to try?
From France: Try a Bandol from Tempier or other Provence examples from d'Esclans, or Pibarnon. From Languedoc Roussillon, try La Grange des Pères. From Spain: Try La Del Terreno from Bullas, an Altado Monastrell from Finca Fella Amansa or a Casa Castillo Pie Franco from Jumilla.
From Australia: Hewitson's Old Garden Mourvedre and of course Atlan & Artisan's Epistem No 5
From USA: Bonny Doon's Old Telegram or Cine Cellars' Small Berry Mourvedre
To learn more about grape varieties, join our next WSET Level 2 Award in Wines
Anderson K. & Nelgen S. (2020) Which Wine grape Varieties Grow Where? A Global Empirical Picture Revised Edition Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press
Clarke, O. & Rand, M. (2015) Grapes & Wines. New York: Sterling Epicure
International Organization of Vine and Wine. (2017) Distribution of the world’s grapevine varieties Paris: OIV
Robinson, J. (2015) The Oxford Companion to Wine. New York: Oxford University Press Inc
Robinson, J., Harding & J. Vouillamoz, J. (2013) Wine Grapes London: HarperCollins Ltd.