Mourvèdre is the French (and Catalan) name for the Spanish grape Monastrell. The grape is recorded near Valencia in the 13th Century, and probably originates there.

It is, almost totally, a Mediterranean grape, grown along the East Coast of Spain, and the Mediterranean side of Rousillon, Languedoc and Provence.

The world total production of Mourvèdre is somewhere between that of Riesling and that of Pinot Noir. It seems rather less because most of it – 84% – is grown in Spain as Monastrell. It is the main grape in the Spanish DOs of: Valencia, Almansa, Alicante, Yecla and (most familiarly) Jumilla. Elsewhere it is usually blended.

The grape is declining in Spain, whereas it is increasingly planted in France. Here it has grown ten-fold in the last fifty years and France now accounts for 14% of the world plantings.

The New World only accounts for about 2% of the World’s total, principally in Australia (where it is sometimes known by another name of Catalan origin: Mataro) but also in California, Washington and South Africa. In these place one can find some varietal wines but by far the majority are so-called GSM blends (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre), copying famous Southern Rhone styles.

Provence provides the most famous French Mourvèdre-based wines in the form of Bandol. Here Mourvèdre has to be over 50% of the blend in red wines – and is usually over 80%, backed by Grenache or Cinsault and limited amounts of Carignan and/or Syrah.

Bandol is a coastal Village in the Department of Var, where Mourvèdre is increasingly planted and now accounts for 3% of the World’s total, about a quarter of that in the Bandol AC.

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The grape is late ripening and likes very warm, but not very dry, breezy, low-altitude plantings with some moisture benefit (clay in the soil, or proximity to the sea) – accounting for its preponderance around the Mediterranean rim.

It has high fragrance: violet, blueberry, blackberry and plum fruit and “meaty” or “gamey” notes. Other notes can include black pepper, tarragon, thyme and other dried herbs – hints of smoke, mocha or chocolate. The wine can produce high alcohol and high tannin wines suitable for aging. When young it can have excessive (reductive or oxygen-starved) sulphury, farmyard notes.

Much of French Mourvèdre’s use is as a minor grape across Southern Rhone and Languedoc reds. Varietal examples are much more likely in Provence and Roussillon… notably of course – in Bandol.

Bandol AC covers a South facing natural amphitheatre stretching from the peaks of the Massif de la Sante-Baume down to the shore of the old fishing village of Bandol itself. The area enjoys 3,000 hours of sunshine a year! The appellation area encompasses eight communes: Bandol, La Cadière d’Azur, Saint-Cyr-sur-mer, Le Castellet, Le Beausset, Ollioules and Sanary

The vines are planted on terraces called “restanqes” on approximately 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres). Approximately two thirds is planted with Mourvèdre, most of the rest with Cinsault, Grenache, Carignan and Syrah and a little (maybe 5%) with white grapes:- Clairette Blanche, Bourboulenc and Ugni Blanc. About 70% of the production is red, most of the rest is Rosé.

The soils in the appellation area are mainly limestone and very pebbly, with sandy marls, sandstone, red or white limestone, clay and sand in places. The main characteristic of the Bandol appellation is the stone-like aridity and low fertility of well-drained, highly calcareous soils. To preserve this character, Bandol appellation area rules only allow plots of land situated on hillsides. The natural dryness of the soils is balanced by the humidity of the air from the sea and by rainfall (600mm/yr on average); the rainfall amount is low, yet high enough to compensate for the water deficit during summer.

While the authorized yield is 40 hectolitres per hectare, good growers often try to keep it within lower yields (25 to 30 hl), so as to express its essence.

For this month’s tasting we will try 6 based wines starting with a Bandol Rosé, red examples from South Africa, Roussillon and Jumilla and 2 Bandols.

One would expect the non-Bandol reds to major on the grape’s juicy berry-fruit elements while the Bandols emphasise the tannins, fragrance and gamey qualities. We will see – there will be a report here in 3 or 4 days.

Until then….

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