A Great Grape
The stinky pleasures of Mourvèdre.
Château de Pibarnon Bandol 2004, $45 (France)
No avoiding the animal fur here—the wine reeks of roadkill, with some raspberries, plums, flowers, and tobacco garlanding the corpse. But don't be deterred: This is actually a pleasant, even somewhat elegant Bandol, with ripe, deliciously chewy fruit and fine balance. Blend: 90 percent Mourvèdre, 10 percent Grenache.
Domaine Tempier Bandol La Tourtine 2004, $54 (France)
A winning nose of blackberries, licorice, and herbs, with some minerality, gaminess, and alcoholic heat thrown in. Full-bodied, lush, and very chewy, with jammy black fruit and big, ripe tannins—a mouthful, this one. A nice black-pepper note across the palate, some not-so-nice heat on the finish. A very good Bandol, certainly, but the alcohol does announce its presence.
Ridge Vineyards Mataro Pato Vineyard 2003, $25 (California)
A translucent shade of red (an interesting contrast to the dark purple that characterizes most Bandols). Cherry, earth, tobacco, and black-pepper aromas float out of the glass. Rich, slightly sweet fruit in the mouth, supported by ripe tannins. Seems to gain heft across the palate, and the finish lingers nicely. Holds its alcohol (15 percent) well. Paul Draper, Ridge's winemaker, never seems to set a foot wrong. Blend: 95 percent Mourvèdre, 5 percent Petite Sirah.
Tablas Creek Vineyard Mourvèdre 2004, $35 (California)
Tablas Creek is a joint venture between Beaucastel and its American importer, Robert Haas of Vineyard Brands. 2004 is the second vintage of the winery's 100 percent Mourvèdre bottling. Features very Rhone-like aromas of raspberries, tobacco, and baking spices, along with a bit of leather and some telltale Mourvèdre gaminess. Ripe, sweet-and-spicy fruit on the palate, along with some black pepper. A nicely proportioned, satisfying wine.
Bodegas El Nido Clio Jumilla 2004, $60-$80 (Spain)
Enough alcoholic heat flaring out of the glass to incinerate nose hairs and singe eyebrows, enough new oak to conjure images of denuded forests. And how does it taste? Chunky blackberry jam oozes across the palate, followed by an anaesthetizing wave of woodspice. Blend: 70 percent Mourvèdre, 30 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, with 0 percent appeal. (For me, anyway—this wine got a huge score from Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate and has become very scarce as a result. Go figure. The best retail price I could find is $60.)
Casa Castillo Las Gravas Jumilla 2002, $25 (Spain)
A nose vaguely suggestive of a Bordeaux (there's 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend, along with 60 percent Mourvèdre and 20 percent Syrah), with aromas of black currants, tobacco, licorice, and flowers. Lush, spicy black fruit in the mouth, backed by good acidity and tannins. A well-made, toothsome wine that also represents great value.
Torbreck Vintners The Pict 2004, $150 (Australia)
A complex bouquet redolent of plum, leather, earth, black pepper, and oak. A full-bodied wine that is both decadently rich but also somewhat austere—a peculiar combination in any wine, but especially one hailing from the Land of the Fruit Bomb. (More shocking still for an Australian red, it weighs in at only 13.2 percent alcohol.) Finishes with ripe, well-integrated tannins and a lick of oak. An impressive straight Mourvèdre, even if the sticker is a little shocking.