California Wine: Mourvèdre Than Meets the Eye


Mourvèdre is the Philip Seymour Hoffman of the wine world. There! I went ahead and just said it, and it's not just because it has three names.


This chameleon of a grape is popularly known as Mourvèdre in the south of France, where it can be dark and brooding when playing a supporting role in the wines of Chateauneuf du Pape. Or it may take center stage, such as it does in Bandol, and boast mysterious, licorice-laced, meaty, dark fruit. Yet, in Spain where it was named and probably originated, it plays quite a different role. In Jumilla for example, it is popularly called Monastrell and it exhibits big boisterous fruit, a solid dusting of chocolate and whisps of smoke.

Like many that have crossed the shores of the United States only to have their names changed, Mourvèdre arrived here over one hundred years ago and was dubbed Mataro. In recent years, it has reclaimed its "French" identity throughout the Central Coast, and particularly in Paso Robles, thanks to wineries such as Tablas Creek and other "Rhone Rangers."

One winery making great wine from this grape is Kenneth Volk Vineyards. Volk includes this offering in his series of Heritage Varietal wines, which includes lesser known grapes like Malvasia, Trousseau, and Negrette. A thoughtful, progressive winemaker, Kenneth Volk produces wines from varietals that work with the California weather, rather than simply relying on grapes of great reputation to pay the bills.

Today's wine is his 2008 Lime Kiln Valley, Enz Vineyard Mourvèdre. The Lime Kiln AVA sits in San Benito County, just south of Santa Cruz, and the vines here are over eighty years old. In the glass, Volk's rendition of Mourvèdre is a comforting deep ruby color with warm, delicious wafts of licorice root and chocolate. The palate bursts with sun-basked blackberries wrapped in a blanket of felty tannins. The wine's refreshing acidity darts around your mouth and then lingers just long enough to make you miss it when it leaves. Drink this with smoked meats or barbequed lamb; it would even pair perfectly with a nice hunk of after-dinner cheese. This is a wonderful example of what California terroir is all about, expressed by a grape that actually feels like it belongs here.

2008 Kenneth Volk Vineyards Lime Kiln Valley Mourvèdre Enz Vineyard, retails about $23.

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