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Friday read: ‘Grape of the sun’ in the hot seat with Peter McCombie MW

Published:  02 June, 2023

Monastrell was given a chance to shine in London recently, via a masterclass which aimed to show a sun-loving variety in a brand new light.

Sun worshippers may find they have an affinity with Monastrell – the grape also known as Mourvèdre – which is happiest when getting its full complement of vitamin D.

Sometimes overly gamey and plagued by astringent tannins if not handled correctly, it was the new wave of Monastrell which organisers aimed to put on show at last week’s tasting, where wines were lined up from across south-east Spain: DOs Alicante, Almansa, Bullas, Jumilla and Yecla.

Despite possibly being better known in the UK via its epithet français, Spain actually has 83% of world plantings. Monastrell Spain is now trying to improve awareness of both brand and quality, by sounding the Monastrell bell far and wide.

“We have a bright future for the UK,” said Esther Gonzalez de Paz, director of communications for the Jumilla DO.

“In fact, we are selling already a lot of Monastrell in the UK, so consumers are probably already drinking Monastrell, they just aren’t aware of it. The UK is our fourth biggest market. So, the wines are already here and people are already enjoying them. We can speak about organic farming and old vines, and a lot of ungrafted vines, with preservation of old vineyards happening. I think you will taste amazing quality wines with very, very competitive prices.”

Jumilla is by far the largest DO when it comes to Monastrell: it has 17,500 ha under vine, 77% of the five DOs total plantings (28,000 ha).

Derived from the Latin Monasteriellu, the name points to the extensive role of monasteries in the spread of viticulture in this part of Europe, and has since gone on to appear in many guises (Mataró in Australia and Cyprus for example.)

However, it is the modern face of the grape that was on show at the session.

“Maybe Monastrell has slightly had the problem that it comes from the Levante, and people thought that was a little down market; maybe it’s a bit hot and not really that interesting,” session lead, Peter McCombie MW, said.

“However, it’s interesting how its reputation has come full circle. There’s a richness and a quality there, that maybe has been underestimated. Now the Australians have suddenly realised that boring old Mataró was actually really quite exciting, glamorous Mourvèdre; and [this has led, in Spain] to a bit of rediscovery of the fundamental quality of this grape.”

McCombie referenced the experiments of Chateau de Beaucastel in recent decades, where Mourvèdre paved the way for a similar project at California’s Tablas Creek.

At the latter, the owners were “very keen on more Mourvèdre, as they found it added something to their wines in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. They thought it added something really special”.

The session revealed wines which fined-tuned Monastrell’s tendency to be gamey and alcoholic into something much livelier and fresher. The Parajes del Valle 2020, (100% Monastrell), for example, harnessed its livelier qualities, with no oak leaving room for fruitiness and a hint of spice to break through.

“Because it comes from the Levante and it’s hot, we may tend to think of Monastrell as being a blockbuster. But here, you’ve got a wine that’s found its place, that reflects its place, but still with freshness, as it can stand up to the climate,” McCombie said.

Coming in at a respectable 13% abv, the wine was also one of several which – often with the help of elevation – managed to lower the alcohol to more palatable temperatures. A grape for modern times, perhaps?

For more information, visit Monastrell Spain.