The Edward Cullen of Forgotten Grapes
Mad, bad, and dangerous to know. Words that once described 19th-century Romantic poet Lord Byron, words that could describe sensitive teenage dreamboat vampire Edward Cullen from Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, and words that well describe this week’s forgotten grape Mourvedre, save for two things: Mourvedre is never, ever bad, and you’d be mad not to drink it.
Mourvedre is often mistaken for a heavy, sullen, imposing red wine due to its dark crimson/plum purple color, its often higher alcohol content (sometimes as high as 15-16%), and a tannic heft that can suck your mouth dry. But just like Edward, Mourvedre’s gruff exterior hides a softer side, one of earthy, jammy, animalistic aromas, luscious dark fruits exhibiting a touch of sweetness, and hints of espresso-like bitterness that disappear into whiffs of nothing when they are finally done with you.
Mourvedre is, despite its complexion, a shy and introverted red wine, which explains why, like the conflicted Edward, it prefers not to stand out but rather to blend in and surround itself with the company of a few close confidantes – not Bella or the rest of the Cullen clan in this case, but rather its Rhone-based comrades Grenache and Syrah. But get Mourvedre all alone and its seductive pull becomes undeniable. It’s a rich, luscious, down-to-earth wine, one that matches well with lighter roasted meats and earthy vegetables, and can remain unchanged long after it’s been uncorked. Hmm, sort of like a sparkly teen-aged vampire...
How Do You Pronounce Mourvedre?
moo-VED-ruh or (if you prefer more French) moo-VEDR
Mourvedre Looks Like:
Mourvedre has a dark garnet red-to-deep purple (“Smooooooke on the waaaaaater”) color that looks a lot like blood in the glass – but in a good way: deep and thick and murky like Edward’s indecision about whether he’s actually a dangerous killer or just a sensitive goofball puppy-dog teenager in love. Awwww...
Mourvedre Smells Like:
No, you’re not mistaken; those ARE horses you’re smelling, along with heavy doses of blackberry jam. A typical Mourvedre has a strong, gamy barnyard aroma as well as the rich, luscious scent of dark berry jam. It’s like someone set up a cattle pen in the middle of the Smucker’s factory. Or the smell you’d get if Knott’s Berry Farm’s moved its boysenberry pie shop right next door to the Calico Ghost Town horse corral. Rich, earthy, animalistic, pungent, slightly sweet and, as always, all of these things in a good way.
Mourvedre Tastes Like:
Those blackberries you smelled? Well, here they are! And now they’re in a tart. Boysenberry danish? Check. Black currant clafouti? Yup. A blueberry Pop-Tart or any other dark berry pastry? Bingo. They’re all in there. Lots of dark fruit with just a touch of sweetness. But the first thing you’ll notice upon your initial sip of Mourvedre is how dry the tannins make your mouth feel (they’re tannins, that’s what they do). You’ll pucker slightly and your tongue might feel like it’s been pickled, but that’s perfectly normal. Though the sensation shouldn’t be overpowering (that’s what Syrah is for). You also might feel another sensation on your tongue, almost a tickle or sparkle. That’s from the higher alcohol content of Mourvedres, if you’ve chosen a “hot” wine (one with 15%+ alcohol), so make sure to keep an eye, er, a tongue on that.
Now, as much as I hate to admit this, Mourvedres are clearly male wines: they tend to announce themselves with a big, brash, self-important bluster, but quickly fade into a whole lot of nothing. You’ll get that dark fruit, that touch of sweetness, and that tannic pull right up front, but then those flavors devolve into a slight mid-tongue bitterness mid-sip before fading away into almost nothing. A Mourvedre finish isn’t exactly what one would call long or substantial, although you will occasionally get an unsweetened chocolate aftertaste on the swallow. Other than that, though, there’s not much there. Sort of like the guy at your gym who thinks he’s all buff but uses 20 lbs. weights and gets tired 5 minutes into Cardio-jam or kick boxing. Yeah, that guy.
● France’s southern Rhone Valley
● The Bandol appellation in Provence
● Spain (as Monastell or Mataro)
● Paso Robles and the Central Coast of California
Cindy’s “Did Juneau?”:
Only four countries (France, Spain, Australia, and the United States) produce Mourvedre in any significant amount, yet except for a few 100% varietal wines (some of which you’ll find below), Mourvedre is typically used only in small amounts and as a blending grape, usually to soften Grenache, Syrah, or other red blends. With one major exception. The tiny wine region (or AOC, as the French call it) of Bandol, named after the eponymous town on the French Mediterranean coast, requires its reds and rosés to be made of at least 50% Mourvedre, with Cinsault and Grenache doing the blending.
With a unique red wine like Mourvedre, you definitely want to pair it with a meat but not something big like a steak or a roast or lamb that’s going to be too heavy and overshadow the wine. Despite the tannins, Mourvedre just doesn’t have the heft and length to stand up to those meats. So try it with a roasted chicken slathered with butter mixed with salt, pepper and a whole lot of herbs –rosemary, sage, and especially thyme. If you want to get super dangerous, slip a couple of strips of bacon under the chicken’s skin and across the breasts before you roast it. The savoriness of the chicken is going to match up really nicely with the earthiness of Mourvedre, but the sweeter fruit will bring out the richness in the food and cut through the salt from the skin, butter, and bacon.
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