Monastrell – El Congreso Internacional!

Having received my invitation a couple of months ago, I was lucky enough to be one of the 600+ wine professionals to attend the hugely successful Monastrell Congress organised by D.O. Alicante




Having received my invitation a couple of months ago, I was lucky enough to be one of the 600+ wine professionals to attend the hugely successful Monastrell Congress organised by D.O. Alicante and held in the City’s very impressive Auditorio Provincial de Alicante (ADDA).


Wine makers, agricultural experts, university professors, sommeliers, officials of several D.Os., government ministers, journalists and bloggers, all of many different nationalities were there to celebrate, Monastrell. The grape variety indigenous to SE Spain, but in fact grown in many areas of Spain as well as several different countries of both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. I’m sure I wasn’t the only onlooker to be more than satisfied that at last Monastrell is being given the acknowledgement that it surely deserves.


Readers may remember an article I wrote on my return from Cahors, France, in the Summer. Whilst there I couldn’t help but be enthused by the pride that the locals felt in their prized grape variety, Malbec. Everywhere one went there were references to Malbec in a soft, but determined, ‘sell’ of the variety which makes wine that used to be known as the Black Wines of Cahors! It was infectious!


Now is the time of Monastrell, the fourth most grown variety in Spain. Out of the 90 Denominaciónes de Origen recognised in Spain there are 24 where Monastrell is a permitted variety, including D.O. Cava. Plus there are another 47 officially recognised areas of production where Monastrell is used.


It is most prolific here in the autonomous regions of South East Spain, where Murcia has the largest vineyard area under Monastrell, followed by Castilla la Mancha and then Valencia. D.O. Jumilla grows the most Monastrell, with 68% of its vineyards to Monastrell, then come D.Os., in order: Alicante, Yecla, Bullas, Valencia, Almansa and Manchuela.


Regarding exporting wines made with Monastrell, Yecla leads the way with 68% of its wines going overseas, with Valencia and Jumilla coming 2nd and third respectively.


But it’s not just Spain where Monastrell is grown, albeit often called by its synonyms: Mourvédre, and Mataró (though there are in fact over 90 more names for this grape variety!). Monastrell is 14th in terms of worldwide production – with France boasting the second largest (Mourvédre) production, to Spain. In the USA and Australia it’s called Mataró and it’s also grown in Greece, Malta and Cyprus.


Monastrell is a late ripening variety. It’s happy in vineyards at 400 – 850 metres above sea level with dry soils where there is little rain and few nutrients, and in climates where temperatures are high during the growing season. Given the correct climate and soils it is resistant to botrytis as well as to pests, with little ‘vine treatment’ i.e. spraying deemed necessary. Its grapes are highly coloured producing aromatic wines that have high tannin levels, making the wine fit for ageing, as well as being an excellent bedfellow for other varieties (a common blend is GSM, Garnacha, Syrah and Monastrell). You can see why it’s so popular in Southern Spain, where it has adapted perfectly!


In Spain you’ll find that most Monastrell was grown ‘en vaso’, as bush vines. Once called ‘goblet’ vines because of their similar shape to the ‘Paris Goblet’ shaped wine glasses, these are vines that have stood the test of time. Often planted before trellising was thought of in Spain, the vines have adapted to the conditions, with their shape helping the production of good, healthy grapes as it provides some shade in the fierce sun.


Why change a winning team? Well, with the onset of climate change growers are looking at alternatives. Trellising is being used more often with new plantings. This will allow a better circulation of cooling air, with the grape-bearing ‘arms’ of the vine being orientated the way the grower wants (North/South is best), plus the ‘sombra’ (shade) can still be present by careful leaf pruning.


The prediction is that both forms will continue, with maybe trellising being used even more as we approach the mid-point of this century, and beyond.


Regular readers will know that I am a great fan of Monastrell. It’s often included in Cork Talk, either as a mono-varietal or as part of a blend. When judging the wines of D.O. Yecla and D.O. Bullas (and probably D.O. Jumilla as well in 2016) as well as other Spanish wines containing Monastrell in the mix, I never faiol to be delighted by its contribution to the taste and aroma profiles of the wines.


I couldn’t resist tasting some of the Spanish Monastrell wines that I already know (I told you, I like it!) but for research purposes I also tasted others that I do not know very well, or not at all. Plus, I was excited to try Australian Monastrell (Mataró) as well as the rose by another name, the French Mourvédre, the latter in the form of AOC Bandol wines from southern France, whose regulations stipulate that at least 50% of all red wines must be Monastrell!


There’s no space to include my notes on all but . . .


I must admit (though I’m sure my Spanish friends will understand) that I went first for an Australian Monastrell (called Mourvédre in this case). Grown where Philoxera didn’t make it, the Hewitson Old Garden 2012 comes from vines planted – are you  ready for this – in 1853! The soils are amongst the oldest on the planet and the Hewitson vineyard is believed to be the oldest Monastrell vineyard in the world!


At 150 AUD (Australian Dollars – you do the maths, I’ve got a bad knee!) you’d expect the wine to be fine, the more so, given its pedigree – and you wouldn’t be wrong! It’s been judicially aged in French oak and has a colour far lighter that the Monastrell wines of Spain. Perfumed, elegant, excellent!


The French AOC Bandol wines were an interesting contrast, though it’s a mite frustrating, as is often the case with French wines, to such scant information on the labels. Bandol wines must have at least 50% Mourvédre in the blend, but it wasn’t clear at all if there were any that were 100% Mouvédre, nor in many cases were any of the varieties mentioned. Sorry, but it’s a failing of French wines, in my opinion – consumers who are becoming increasingly more savvy like to know this information.


I also liked (among many others) DO Almansa’s Bodegas Piqueras Valcanto 100 – a wine to commemorate the bodega’s centenary!

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