Region: French. Provence. Bandol.
Grape Variety: Blend of Mourvedre, Grenache and Syrah.
Tasting Notes: Ripe. Complex. Layered. Endless. Tannic.
Also called Monastrell and Mataro, Mourvèdre is most famous for the ruby-hued wines of Provence’s Bandol region, known for their spicy, gamey, blackberry character, though the grape is grown throughout Provence and the Southern Rhône. Thought to have originated in Spain, it is second only to Grenache in vine acres, with the best examples found in Rioja, Alicante and Penedès.
In France, Grenache is most widely associated with the wines of the Rhone and southern France. Its history in the Rhone can be traced to the influence of Burgundian wine merchants in the 17-18th centuries who were seeking a blending variety to add body and alcohol content to their light body wines. Grenache, with its propensity for high alcohol and high yields, fit those desire nicely and was widely planted in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas and Vacqueyras regions. Today Grenache is most widely planted in the Languedoc-Roussillon region where it is widely blended with Carignan, Cinsaut, Syrah and Mourvèdre. The vine also has sizable plantings in the Drôme department. The vine’s strong, hard wood and affinity for bush vine training allows it to thrive in the Mistral influenced southern Rhone regions of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas. In Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Grenache noir is the most common variety of the 13 permitted varieties, although some producers in recent years have been using a higher proportion of Mourvèdre. Grenache produces a sweet juice that can have almost a jam-like consistency when very ripe. Syrah is typically blended to provide color and spice, while Mourvèdre can add elegance and structure to the wine.The grape’s thin skin and pale coloring makes its well suited for the production of full bodied, fruit rosé wines. Grenache is the principal grape behind the rosés of Tavel and Lirac and its plays an important role in the Provence region as well. In the Roussillon region, Grenache noir and its gris and blanc mutations are used in the production of the fortified vin doux naturels of Rivesaltes, Banyuls, and Maury. The characteristic of French Grenache-based wines depends largely on the selection of its blending partners and can range from the spicy richness associated with Châteauneuf-du-Pape to the chewy fruitiness associated with basic Côtes du Rhône Villages. Other regions with sizable plantings of Grenache include the Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) regions of Minervois, Fitou and Corbières.
One of France’s noblest black grape varieties, Syrah is known for its intense and distinctive perfume reminiscent of briar fruit, tar, spice and black pepper and its firm structure. One of few black grape varietals frequently vinified on its own, the best examples of Syrah come from the Northern Rhône, particularly Hermitage, but also Côte-Rôtie, Cornas, Crozes-Hermitage and St-Joseph. These wines are very astringent in their youth, though some Crozes-Hermitage and St-Joseph can be enjoyed young, relatively speaking. Given the requisite patience, though, these wines can reveal amazing complexity and secondary fruit characteristics like plum and blackcurrant as well as subtle hints of smoke and flowers. In the Southern Rhône, Syrah is used to add structure and complexity to wines dominated by Grenache and complemented by Mourvèdre, like the more immediately drinkable Côte du Rhônes, as well as the long-lived wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. In recent years, plantings of Syrah have spread throughout the Languedoc-Roussillon where it is produced on its own or blended with other varietals. Outside of France, the most important Syrah growing country is easily Australia, where it is called Shiraz. Quality levels here depend greatly on yields and geography, and the wines range from bold, fruity and easy-drinking to intense and ageable, like the famed Penfolds Grange. Often bottled on its own, in Australia Syrah is also can be blended with Grenache and Mourvèdre, as in the Southern Rhône, and is increasingly combined with Cabernet Sauvignon. Syrah has also been steadily increasing in popularity in California, thanks to a group of advocates called the Rhône Rangers. Its most successful iterations come from the Central and Sonoma Coasts, where winemakers are pushing boundaries and creating some incredible wines. In recent years Syrah has also found a number of proponents in Washington State, which is definitely a region to watch for this variety.
When it comes to wine, France stands alone. No other country can beat it in terms of quality and diversity. And while many of its Region, Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne most obviously, produce wine as rare, as sought-after and nearly as expensive as gold, there are just as many obscurities and values to be had from little known appellations throughout the country. To learn everything there is to know about French wine would take a lifetime. To understand and appreciate French wine, one only has to begin tasting them.
Provence encompasses the southeastern portion of France that borders the Mediterranean. The largest appellation in the region is the Cotes de Provence that spans 49,600 acres of land in and around Marseilles. Thirteen different varietals are grown in this appellation with the most important grapes being Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache, and Mouvedre. While much of the production is dry rose, there are many more serious wines being made from the area. Some of the most important smaller appellations within Provence include Bandol, Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, and Coteaux Varois.