Technically, I specifically wanted to try monastrell, which I thought I’d never had before. But I quickly found out that it is more commonly known as mourvèdre. For some, that may not mean anything more to you, but for others you probably know Mourvèdre as being one of the three grapes used in the beloved GSM blend: grenache, syrah, mourvèdre.
I’m not sure if I love it or hate it – there are so many varietals out there that have multiple names, depending on where they’re grown. I find it particularly confusing, keeping them all straight, but also appreciate the differentiation among locations, which can drastically change the flavors, aromas, and even the mouthfeel of a wine, so much so that it can seem like a completely different wine!
Many believe that the grape was dubbed monastrell, derived from the Latin word for monastery, as they think this wine originated in Valencia, Spain and was cultivated by the monks. Though this red wine varietal is most notably grown in France nowadays, it’s still widely grown in Spain, parts of the US, and Australia. This grape still goes by all three of its names, mataró being the third. As mentioned earlier, this wine can be found in red blends (commonly, the Rhône blends), as a single varietal offering, or even turned into a rosé or fortified wine.
For this particular post, I am going to focus on monastrell, the Spanish version, because I hope to dedicate future posts to its alter egos, mourvèdre and mataró.
Monastrell grapes grow in medium-sized, tightly packed conical clusters, as small, thick-skinned berries. Along with the berries, this vine can also produce a lot of foliage which sounds really nice and shady, and can be a positive attribute, but it may have some drawbacks as well. Growers need to make certain decisions about how to monitor and manage these extra leaves, which means growers may choose to plant and grow the vines in different patterns. If you’re interested, scroll down to the last table in this Wikipedia article for a list of common vine training systems…who knew there were so many?!?!
I read that monastrell prefers “its face in the hot sun and its feet in the water”…sort of humanizes the grape, right? I feel like I’d do best in that climate too – just give me some sun and a pool and I’m a happy girl (throw in a glass of wine and a book and I’m ecstatic)! So this grape does best in a very warm, dry climate that experiences winds substantive enough to help protect the grapes and vines from mildews, but not strong enough to blow the fruits off the vines. In terms of soil, shallow clay soils are ideal for this varietal, as this type of earth retains a good water supply which provides a regular supply for thirsty vines, but can also help avoid over-watering which could lead to an abundance of foliage, hence the comments above about the issues that can arise with overgrown leaves.
The fruit of this vine has a very deep color and is incredibly high in phenolics (natural chemical compounds that affect the taste, color and mouthfeel of a wine…eg, tannins). This varietal ripens late (it can even remain on the vine until November!). These grapes can actually have a high sugar level than some reds, which, as we’ve explored before, can produce a really high alcohol level.
Monastrell is a full-bodied red, that’s deep purple in color. It’s often described as a meaty red wine, one that has dark fruits and flowers on the nose, along with black pepper, thyme and red meat. On account of its higher tannin levels, this wine would complement rich foods well – for meat lovers: beef short ribs, barbecue, lamb; for vegetarians: lentils or wild rice with portobello or shiitake mushrooms served with soy sauce and black pepper.
Once peak ripeness has been achieved, the harvest must be completed quickly. If it’s not, the grapes’ acidity levels begin to drop, and the flavors change and tend to take on “prune-y” flavors, which could mean that the entire vintage is less desirable, could be considered a wash, or may even be used in different ways to not waste the entire crop. I’m thinking if the grapes are picked too late, the wine would more likely be used as a blending varietal instead of its original purpose. But I realize that even that route may not even be possible if the young juice of the juice isn’t what the winemaker was looking for. Because of its thick skins, though, monastrell berries aren’t as affected by late season rains, which can increase the water content and size of grapes, throwing off the balance of the grape content, essentially diluting the juices eventually produced. Or, it could swell the grapes so much they burst so the fruit is unusable. Definitely not ideal!
I happened to drink this while at an airport’s Vino Volo during some travels a little bit ago. It was a 2015 Actea Monastrell from Spain, with a 14.5% ABV.
The back label explained that Actea vines are grown in rocky, chalky limestone soils. So here are my tasting notes:
Appearance: As you can see, this wine was a deep ruby/purple color, showing inky in the glass.
Nose: Blueberries (like the kind that are cooked and ready to pour over ice cream), blackberries, and slightly floral/herbaceous. I also picked up on an underlying note of bitter dark chocolate.
Taste: Juice from a baked blueberry pie accompanied by warming vanilla undertones. The tannins were present, but just poked their heads up, so I’d say that this was pretty balanced in terms of overall structure.
Overall: This wine was quite enjoyable. I didn’t pair it with any foods, but I think it would’ve made the wine even better. A wine this robust is a bit challenging to drink more than a small glass on its own, but the flavors and aromas it offered were wonderfully crafted.
The fun thing about Vino Volo is that they also provide you with tasting notes on any wine you drink there. Here’s a snapshot of the one they presented with the glass:
While I agree with the description, I don’t really subscribe to their flagging this as a low complexity wine. It definitely was richer and tasted more complex than many reds I’ve had before, so I’d personally reposition the spot in the chart above should be at least halfway down the ‘Complexity’ axis.
I’d definitely recommend monastrell, and even think it’d be cool to do a tasting across the three varietal names (monastrell, mourvèdre, and mataró) to get a sampling of what each region/alias represents in the wine.