Monastrell-a favorite bottle from sunny Spain
My job has some great benefits. I think my favorite reward is when a customer loves a bottle of wine I've recommended. This may be why I like suggesting bottles of Spanish monastrell. They not only bring rave reviews, but monastrell is usually a new experience for most wine drinkers. But who wouldn't love explosive blueberry flavors, spice, and the sultry structure of one of Spain's newest success stories? Even though monastrell is being discovered in wine shops and restaurants all over the US, it has been around for centuries. In fact monastrell is the second most planted grape in Spain, next to garnacha (grenache).
The French have embraced this grape for its ability to blend well with other varieties, boosting flavor, tannins, and color. It is known for its ability to flourish in hot regions, where other varieties suffer. This may be why mourvèdre, the French name for monastrell, is grown in the southern Rhône Valley and is blended into many Côtes du Rhônes blends. It is one of the approved grapes for making the acclaimed wines of Châteauneuf du Pape and is found as solo presentations in the sunny area of Bandol, France as well.
It is Spanish monastrell that keeps my attention. It comes to us from Jumilla, Yecla, and Castilla-La Mancha. Areas that were known only for their bulk wine production until the last decade or so. It was a little root eating louse called phylloxera that helped monastrell get its rebirth in the new world wine market. Because of the sandy soil in parts of Spain, phylloxera didn't infest some of its growing regions until one hundred years after it had devastated the vineyards of Europe. When phylloxera finally arrived, a century later, it was modern technology and the trends in the global wine market that made the bulk wine producers of Spain reconsider their status. The cure for phylloxera is to rip up the current vines and re-plant with resistant varieties. Faced with tearing up their vineyards, many of Spain's bulk producers chose to upgrade their production by planting better quality varieties and by configuring their vineyards to produce less. The more a vine struggles to produce a cluster of grapes, the better the wine will be. Vines that maximize cluster production produce thin but copious wines.
Their grape of choice was the heat loving, disease resistant monastrell. The resulting wines have had incredible success. A bottle can be 100% monastrell or be blended with garnacha, carignan, cabernet sauvignon, or merlot to create a fruit-forward wine with enough tannin and acidity to work well with a steak or burger off the grill. One of my favorite aspects of a bottle containing monastrell is the color. Vibrant violet hues tumble from the bottle that wafts the scent of fresh picked berries. It does well with a touch of oak aging too. Many Spanish producers use American oak barrels for those coconut and vanilla notes that work well with the intensity of monastrell's flavors.
If you've never had a bottle of monastrell from Spain, or any other region for that matter, check out these great bottles. Remember, domestic producers, the French, and Australians call this grape mourvèdre:
Casa Castilla $12
Las Gravas-let this one breathe $25
Altos de la Hoya $13
Finca Luzon $10
Altos de Luzon $18
Castaño Hecula $10
Castaño Solanera $15
Viñecos d' el Seque $10
Cline Mourvèdre-let this one breathe too $22
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