One of the things I’m happy about when doing a wine review is the fact that I usually have some familiarity with the varietal/blend, or I know someone who does. That way I come across as someone who’s schooled, knowledgeable, wine-savvy, and has a clue. Not the case here!
The review actually began with an early evening phone call from Rod, the Wineaux Guy. Instead of the usual sweet nothings, he started off with a “What do you know about Mourvèdre?”
“Uhh… Not much.”
As it turned out, he had opened up a bottle of 2007 Hug Cellars Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard Mourvèdre – Santa Barbara County, and it had thrown him just a bit.
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to be smelling or tasting,” he explained. “It’s so different.”
OF COURSE I had to open up my bottle of Mourvèdre – a few days later, that is – and try it for myself. This wasn’t a one-time, in-one-sitting tasting. This turned out to be a three-day adventure for him and a nearly identical adventure for me. And most of it’s ’cause we don’t know everything we should know about Mourvèdre. But we do know just enough to be dangerous.
In Spain – where it’s known as Monastrell – it is one of the most prolifically grown grape varietals in the country, second only to Grenache, or Garnacha as it’s known there. It actually originated as a blending grape in Provence. It is the “M” in one of my favorite blends, GSM, as in Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre. Whether it’s Chateauneuf du Pape or other Rhône, a slammin’ Aussie, or a great GSM from California, it’s a blend whose structure is hard to beat. Syrah and Grenache have been single varietals, well, *forever,* and are well known. We know *lots* about them! Mourvèdre, on the other hand, not so much.
But I digress.
He said that the first whiff and first taste were a little strange. Not “off,” not corked, not bad, just “strange.” Of course I had no idea what he was talking about. He said that there was lots of mineral, a little metal, some leather, and some ash. Not a lot of fruit. As we talked about the varietal in general and this wine in particular, he stopped speaking. Apparently, something had changed in the wine. Fruit was starting to peek through the non-fruit stuff and confused him even more.
But I’ll get back to his adventure in a few moments.
A few days later, I had the identical experience. With the wine first uncorked, I was greeted with minerals, some dirt, some ash, and a touch of metal. Just 30 minutes later, dark fruit had started to peek through. This is a wine that screamed, “Decant Me!” It was very tight. It was, nevertheless, quite tasty, but almost overpowering with all the *stuff* going on. Not a simple, one-dimensional wine!
The second evening once again revealed our identical experiences: the wine finally bloomed and really, really came into its own. One of the mysterious fruits I was trying to get my nose around was fig. That, along with the leather, earth, pepper, spice – allspice I think – along with dark berries and a touch of game made up much of the other components. The mouthfeel was luscious and revealed a hint of vanilla, loam, and dusty, firm tannins.
By the third evening – yes, it had that much structure – it had calmed down somewhat and was a joy to drink by itself, sans food. The first two nights required a meal to pair with it – I had lamb chops – but on the third night it was a great drinkin’ wine.
Rod and I compared notes and were surprised to find out that we had come to the same conclusions: this wine, a 2007, could easily have gone a couple of years more in the cellar. With its lush body and earthy European style, it certainly had the, um, *cajones* to go the distance. Its complexity and mouthfeel were only revealed after a long time, which means that decanting is a must.
Now for the bad news: it’s sold out. I’m not surprised. As of *about* last week, the 2008 is still sleeping and won’t be ready for sale just yet. The good news is that Hug Cellars wines are now available from Snooth as well as the winery! Keep your eyes peeled.
The next time I get some, I think I’ll hold off an extra year or two just to see what happens. This was a fun wine, alive and very unusual in its behavior, and while I won’t even BEGIN to claim to be a Mourvèdre expert, both Rod and I gained a new insight into and appreciation for this varietal. More importantly, we both enjoyed the transformations that the wine went through as it finally finished on a soft, well-structured, earthy and fruity note.