ARISE SIR MONASTRELL
NOBLE KNIGHT OF SOUTH EAST SPAIN!
Many, many years ago a group of French travellers was dining, with wine, naturellement, in a small village just outside Valencia. Being French they were knowledgeable about wine and were, initially incredulously, impressed with that which they were drinking. (France then, and still today produces top notch wines and don’t let anybody tell you they don’t – it’s just that you have to pay handsomely for them!).
Sacrebleu! We are in Spain ‘ow can we be enjoying ze local wines? – I paraphrase of course! They summoned the owner (Garçon, with a Gallic click of the fingers?) and enquired about the wine, what is it and where is it from? The rather nonplussed owner shrugged his shoulders (he could do Gallic too!) ‘Mourvedre’, was his answer, in fact to both questions.
Our French friends returned to France with cartloads of the local vine from the village, Mourvedre, mistakenly believing that this was the name of the grape variety, not the village. The result was that the vineyards of France over the next few generations became a living testament to the quality of the grape variety that they had discovered in Spain.
The village of course was Mourvedre, and the correct name of that excellent variety? – Monastrell!
Ask those in the wine world about what they call ‘noble grape varieties’ and they’ll tell you France has Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Ask them about Spain and the answer will be short and sweet – Tempranillo, and that’s it!
Well I’m using the platform of the Costa Vibes On-Line Magazine to start what I hope will ultimately lead to the elevation of Monastrell to the hallowed ranks of those varieties which are deemed ‘noble’. Monastrell is an excellent grape variety producing: as a single varietal, superb, deeply coloured, rich, full flavoured and complex wines; as well as similarly beguiling, opulent wines when used in a blend. Monastrell rocks. The French thought so, all those years ago and it’s about time this recognition was worldwide!
So what defines ‘noble’? Does it mean, that it makes wine of top quality? Look at the wonderful wines of Bordeaux with their huge price-tags, most use Cabernet Sauvignon, generally accepted as a noble variety (although it should be noted that this is almost invariably when it is in a blend with others). So yes, if a variety is responsible for excellent wines, then it must be considered as a noble variety.
Look at the Peñin Guide to Spanish Wines, probably the best wine guide in Spain (now also available in English – www.grupopenin.com) and look at the points awarded to wines made with Monastrell. This super-variety consistently registers 90-96 points out of a hundred, be it in a blend or on its own. Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux can’t boast such a claim, as it usually shares its plaudits with its bedfellows!
Does noble mean that it is also widely planted? Well Airén, the La Mancha variety produces the largest single varietal volume of white wine in the world – does that make Airén noble? I don’t think so! It’s true that Cabernet Sauvignon is ubiquitous worldwide, but it’s that which is produced in Bordeaux that gives claim to the title ‘noble’.
Monastrell produces stunning wines in South East Spain in DOs (Denominaciónes de Origen, legally demarcated wine producing areas): Valencia, Yecla, Jumilla, Alicante, Bullas and Almansa. Surely this qualifies it as noble in the same way that Bordeaux does for Cabernet?
Just what does a grape variety have to do to be taken seriously by the wine writing fraternity? And why is Monastrell, in some traditionalsts’ minds still not even the bridesmaid, and certainly never the bride? In short I don’t know, but I can hazard a guess.
Historically it has never been considered noble and therefore the two aren’t synonymous in minds that can best be termed inexperienced in Monastrell and at worst, closed, like a wine that should be great but in fact doesn’t open to reveal its heart.
I think it may also be due to the fact that the areas to which I’ve referred have never, historically again, been considered havens of top quality wine and therefore wines from these regions, no matter how great they are (and I use the word ‘great’ deliberately), are consistently overlooked.
So perhaps I can be a touch impertinent, perhaps, and attempt to enlighten those whom I need to lobby to realise Monastrell’s rise to the ranks of the nobility that it clearly deserves.
Firstly take a look at the Peñin Guide for the DO’s listed above – whilst on the flight to Alicante! Then go to those DOs, guide in hand and taste the top rated wines (most have charming Casas Rurales nearby and some bodegas own or are associated with lovely small hotels). Also ask the winemakers (call me and it will be a pleasure to translate for you if required!) which other wines they themselves believe haven’t been given the credit they deserve by even Peñin, and taste them with the men, and women, who crafted them adding both their passion and their forefathers’ tradition to the final blend.
Taste: El Nido and Clio from Bodegas El Nido (Bodegas Juan Gil), DO Jumilla; Casa Castillo Pie Franco and Las Gravas, Bodegas Casa Castillo, DO Jumilla; Alma de Luzón, Bodegas Luzón, DO Jumilla; Trapío and IV Expresión, Bodegas La Purisima, DO Yecla; Barahonda Summum and Heredad Candela, Bodegas Señorio de Barahonda; Castaño Colección, Casa Cisca and Castaño Monastrell Dulce(!) from Bodegas Castaño, DO Yecla; Valche, Bodega Monastrell(!), DO Bullas; 3000 Años, Bodegas del Rosario, DO Bullas; Les Alcusses, Celler Del Roure, DO Valencia; Rafael Cambra Uno, Bodegas Rafael Cambra, DO Valencia; Trilogía (organic) Bodegas Los Frailes, DO Valencia; the whole range(!) at Bodegas Bernabe Navarro, DO Alicante; El Sequé, Bodegas y Viñedos El Sequé; Estrecho Monastrell, Bodegas Enrique Mendoza, DO Alicante; Mira Salinas, Puerto Salinas and Salinas 1237, Bodegas Sierra Salinas; Atalaya, Bodegas Atalaya, DO Almansa; La Huela de Adras Joven, Bodegas Almanseñas; – for example
– and now tell me I’m wrong! Arise, the eponymous Sir Monastrell!
From My Cellar: As I’m clearly in such a promotional mood I’d also like to champion the cause of those who make dessert wines. Gone are the days when a sweet wine to accompany dessert was considered an integral part of fine dining, but I’d like to bring them back! Provided that the wine isn’t cloying, that it has a backbone of acidity running through the sweetness, a dessert wine is sweet pleasure in a glass.
I’m in the middle of a 50cl bottle (sweet wines keep a little longer in the fridge than dry wines) of Bodegas Porsellanes’ Organic Paratella Moscatel Ecológico. The light brown colour of this wine makes it looks like honey, and the analogy doesn’t stop there, this beautiful raison and grape perfumed and flavoured wine has honey on the nose and palate too. Just for fun, try it as an aperitif as well!