July 16, 2020 – Published in Design & Decor Summer 2013 issue
Words: Albert Cilia-Vincenti
Mourvèdre is the French name of a grape that originates in Spain (where it is called Monastrell) and it’s the key to many reds from south of Madrid, giving high alcohol and plentiful tannins but not much distinction, although more recently growers have been timing their pickings better, which has improved fruit flavour. It may be called Mataro in Australia and California.
In France it is very much a grape of the south and won’t ripen north of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but in Bandol on the Mediterranean coast, it produces big wines which are not without finesse. It is said to be a finicky grape to get right, needing the warmest southfacing sites, and needs to be picked in a small window when the grape finally has body and fruit but before becoming too pruney. In bottle it’s claimed to have its idiosyncracies, being often distinctly farmyardy. What fruit it has is said to be blackberryish with often a herby hint, and it’s easy to mistake a young Mourvèdre as faulty – then after an even more farmyardy middle age, it’s claimed to emerge into a rich, leathery maturity after 5 years or more.
It’s only recently that Mourvèdre has been taken seriously in California, and Chile is testing its first plantings. In Australia, a lot of the clones are of Spanish origin, and old bush vines produce dark, herby, rich and potentially very tannic wines – they are usually used in GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre) blends, but some 100% Mourvèdre wines are produced in Barossa Valley.
It is most interesting that in tiny Malta we have a producer that makes a 100% Mourvèdre wine from what is almost certainly the only Mourvèdre vineyard in the Malta Islands. He is John Cauchi, a paediatric surgeon, who has put in a lot of effort and expense converting family fields in San Niklaw, Zejtun, into vineyards, and has planted Vermentino, Sangiovese, Syrah and Mourvèdre vines. His Mourvèdre is obviously his pride and joy.
In our blind-tasting wine club we recently tasted John Cauchi’s Mourvèdre wine along with other Mourvèdre wines from Australia’s Barossa Valley, France’s Languedoc and from Spain’s Alicante region.
John Cauchi’s San Niklaw Estate’s Kappella San Nikola Mourvèdre 2009 (12% alcohol) and Torbreck’s The Pict 2007, Barossa Valley (14.5%) immediately stood out as the wines with bigger personality than the other two. The Kappella had a hauntingly intense nose of leather and varnish with gentle tannins and good length (I thought – others on my table didn’t agree with the latter point). When I first tasted John’s Mourvèdre, about two years ago, the wine had a different nose – fruitier from what I could remember, possibly because it was a younger version (also had a little Syrah), or possibly because the oak maturation has now been intensified. The Maltese wine was scored a very creditable second preference behind the very expensive Australian.
David Powell’s Torbreck Vintners’ wine from Barossa Valley was the majority’s first preference – we do not put too much meaning in the average scores, but this wine’s average score is among the highest ever given by our membership. It had a powerful berry nose with lovely full but fresh mouthfeel with good length. Some on my table felt that its characteristics were static throughout and therefore a minus in refinement.
Established in the mid-1990s, Torbreck became one of the most raved-about Barossa wineries and one of the few, according to Williamson & Moore, which produces genuinely outstanding wines that match some of the hype.
They add that all Torbreck reds have highish but balanced alcohol levels and a breadth and extract many other Barossa/Clare/McLaren Vale blockbusters lack. Williamson & Moore’s last published edition was 2007 and it does not include “The Pict” in their comments. They rate Torbreck’s “RunRig” (Shiraz with a little Viognier) a world class classic with the sort of dimension and structure only top Cote-Roties have. Parker rates 2001 RunRig 99+ and 2004 The Pick 95+.
Borie de Maurel’s Cuvée Maxime Minervois 2008 (14%) and Artadi’s Laderas de El Seque Alicante 2010 (14%) were closely scored respectively into 3rd and 4th preference respectively. My impressions were that the southern French wine had a gentle, rather faint, but pleasant nose with a simple pleasant palate but no depth or any length. The Alicante contained a little Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon besides the predominant Monastrell, and had a simple fruity nose, a pleasant sweet but simple palate and no length – it reminded me of a €20 Barossa valley GSM and a €40 Chateauteneuf-du-Pape we’ve tasted in the past, a good showing for a less than €10 wine by one of Spain’s top producers.