I have a new favorite grape, or at least I thought I did. Turns out to be an old favorite.
It's mourvedre, and I first fell in love with it unwittingly (which is how I do all too many things) with one of those "Aha!" wine moments.
The 1989 Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape was an absolute knockout — it is still coveted by collectors — and helped me realize how fantastic wine could be. Earthy but elegant, rich but refined, intense but polished; it was everything I wanted in a wine.
And the primary grape in this red blend was … mourvedre.
A few years later, I was knocked out by a lusty Spanish red with an unwieldy name: Bodega Olivares Altos de la Hoya Monastrell Jumilla. It remains, year in and year out, one of the best $13 bottles of wine on the planet.
And it turns out that monastrell is Spanish for … mourvedre.
Somewhere along the way, a fellow grape nut turned me on to a superb, earthy French red with "Domaine Tempier Bandol" on the label.
And it turns out the red wines from Bandol are … well, you get the picture.
All of which helps explain why mourvedre has yet to become an "it" wine: It has been "hiding" under other grape names (including "mataro"). Or behind Old World we're-not-going-to-put-the-grape-on-the-label stubbornness. Or as parts of blends from southern France and Australia, including many with "GSM" on the label, indicating a grenache-syrah-mourvedre concoction. Of course, mourvedre gets third billing.
Well, it shouldn't.
Mourvedre is not for everyone. It can be a bit of a beast, with meaty, earthy, often gamey notes to go with some powerful red-fruit flavors. The tannins are firm but chewy and almost always polished, providing a rare combo: structure for aging but approachability for younger wines.
The result is a rich, savory, lusty wine that gives those of us who love it an almost visceral connection to the ground from which it sprang.
Indeed, Tablas Creek general manager Jason Haas says mourvedre provides "an appealing loaminess that I think is really distinctive" for his winery's superb Esprit de Beaucastel blend. Haas added that besides its blending aptitude, he's extremely excited about the future of varietal mourvedre in California.
Currently Cline is the most readily available domestic mourvedre, with both an affordable Ancient Vines bottling and a spendier Small Berry Mourvedre. The winery's smooth-as-its-name Cashmere blend uses more mourvedre than any other grape.
Mourvedre also leads the way in several stellar Old World reds, including France's Mas Carlot "Les Enfants Terribles" (50-50 with syrah) and Spain's Luzon (70-30 with syrah) and El Nido Clio (70-30 with cabernet sauvignon).
Spain, where it is the second-most-grown grape, provides the best entry-level varietal options from producers such as Mas Donis, Tarima, Can Blau and Juan Gil, and in the mid-$20s with El Segue.
But it is in the way-south of France, the coastal Bandol region, that mourvedre finds its foremost expression. Domaine Tempier and Chateau de Pibarnon consistently bottle world-class wines, powerful and profound.
And living proof that $42 wines can be a screamin' bargain.
Follow Bill Ward on Twitter: @billward4