Mourvèdre N

Jules Troncy

Mourvèdre (also known as Mataro or Monastrell) is a red wine grape variety grown in many regions around the world including the Rhône and Provence regions of France, the Valencia and Jumilla and Yecla denominaciones de origen (DOs) of Spain, as well as the Balearic Islands, California and Washington and the Australian regions of South Australia and New South Wales, as well as South Africa. In addition to making red varietal wines, Mourvèdre is a prominent component in “GSM” (Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre) blends. The variety is also used to make rosé and port-style fortified wines.

Most wine historians agree that Mourvèdre is likely to be Spanish in origin, though its exact history is difficult to pinpoint. The variety was probably introduced to Valencia by the Phoenicians around 500 BC. The French-adapted name Mourvèdre probably came from Murviedro (Mourvèdre in Valenciano, nowadays Sagunt) near Valencia while the name Mataro is thought to have come from Mataró, Catalonia near the modern-day city of Barcelona. Despite this close association with Murviedro and Mataró, the grape became known in Spain as Monastrell for reasons that are still unknown though it has been speculated at a “neutral” name may have been chosen so as not to offend the local pride of both regions.

Mourvèdre had a well-established presence in Roussillon region of France by at least the 16th century when still part of Spain (until 1659) where it spread eastwards towards Provence and the Rhone. There it had a well established foothold until the phylloxera epidemic of the mid to late 19th century decimated plantings. As the French and other European wine regions recovered from the phylloxera scourge by grafting Vitis vinifera varieties to American rootstock, it was discovered that Mourvèdre vines did not take well to the grafting and many vineyards were replanted with other varieties.

According to ampelographer Pierre Galet, Mourvèdre thrives in warm climates as the variety has a tendency to both bud and ripen very late. While the variety can recover well from late spring frost due to the late budding, it can be very temperature sensitive throughout its growing season with even low winter temperatures affecting its dormancy. Though the grape can adapt to a variety of vineyard soil types, the most ideal sites are very warm, south facing (Northern hemisphere) slopes with shallow, clay soils that can retain the necessary moisture to keep the vines “feet” wet without letting it grow its foliage too vigorously.  In addition to a warm climate, Mourvèdre also does best in a dry climate with sufficient wind to protect it from the viticultural hazards of powdery mildew and downy mildew.

The grape clusters of Mourvèdre are relatively compact, enhancing its susceptibility to mildew, with small thick-skinned berries that are high in both color and flavor phenolics, particularly tannins. Even though the variety ripens late, it has the potential to ripen to high Brix sugar levels, which can translate into a high alcohol level during fermentation. The vine can also be very vigorous, producing abundant foliage that can shade the grape clusters, affecting canopy management decisions for growers. In Australia and California, many of the oldest plantings of Mourvèdre are bush trained as the vines grows well vertically but the variety can be grown under many different kinds of vine training systems.

The harvest window for the grape tends to be very short once it reaches peak ripeness, with acidity rapidly falling and the grapes soon desiccating and developing prune-like flavors. One advantage of the thick skins is that Mourvèdre can withstand late harvest rains without the berries swelling and bursting like thinner skin varieties such as Grenache. In regions such as the Paso Robles AVA of California, it is often one of the last varieties to be harvested sometimes hanging onto the vine until early November.

Mourvèdre produces medium-size, compact bunches that are usually conical in shape with a small wing cluster that may be discarded during green harvesting. The leaves often have truncate cuneiform “wedge” shape. Since World War II, newer clones and better rootstock have been developed that have allowed Mourvèdre vines to be grafted more easily.

In France, Mourvèdre doesn’t grow much farther north than the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC in the southern Rhône; and even there it has some trouble ripening in cooler vintages. It tends to ripen most consistently in the warmer Provençal region of Bandol AOC along the Mediterranean coast where the growing season is often 5 °C warmer. While plantings have been declining in Spain, they have been increasing in France, particularly in the Languedoc-Roussillon region where the grape variety has seen growing popularity as both a varietal wine and as a blending component. After the phylloxera epidemic of the late 19th century and with declining interest in the variety for most of the 20th century, there were less than 900 ha in 1968, mostly in the southern Rhône and the Bandol AOC of Provence. But the spark of interest and international investment in the Languedoc saw planting sharply increase and by 2000 there were over 7,600 ha of Mourvèdre planted throughout Southern France.

While Bandol is the AOC region that most prominently features Mourvèdre (by law all red Bandols must contain at least 50% Mourvèdre), other Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC)s that has Mourvèdre as a permitted variety include Cassis, Collioure, Corbières, Costières de Nîmes, Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, Coteaux du Languedoc, Coteaux de Pierrevert, Coteaux Varois, Côtes du Luberon, Coteaux du Tricastin, Côtes de Provence, Côtes du Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages, Côtes du Roussillon, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Côtes du Ventoux, Faugères, Fitou, Palette, Saint-Chinian, Gigondas, Lirac, Minervois, and Vacqueyras. In Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it is one of the 18 permitted varieties in the red wine but is often a secondary component behind Grenache and Syrah. The exceptions are notable blends from producers such as Château de Beaucastel which often has Mourvèdre account for more than a third of the blend. As of 2009, Mourvèdre accounted for 6.6% (213 ha) of all Châteauneuf-du-Pape plantings.

The small, thick-skin berries of Mourvèdre are high in phenolic compounds that have the potential to produce a deeply colored, very tannic wine with significant alcohol levels if harvested at high sugar levels. However, the variety is rarely harvested at sugar levels below 13% alcohol because the flavors at those lower levels are often very weak and herbaceous. In favorable vintages Mourvèdre can produce highly perfumed wines with intense fruit flavors and notes of blackberries and gamey or meaty flavors. Some examples of Mourvèdre may come across as faulted in their youth with farmyard-like and strong herbal flavors. As the wine ages, more earthy tertiary aromas may develop before becoming more leather and gingerbread aroma notes.

In both Old and New World wine regions, Mourvèdre is a popular grape to be used in rosé winemaking. These wines can be made as a dedicated rosé where the skins are allowed only a brief period of skin contact (a few hours or a single day) before they are pressed or as saignée where some of the juice destined for a red Mourvèdre is “bled off” during fermentation creating two separate wines—a darker, more concentrated red wine and the lighter rosé.

Production area in 2018: 9 200 ha (22 735 acres)