As the warmer weather gives way to a slight chill in the air, we know fall is on the way. In fact, just today I witnessed a blanket of frost over the farmland in Northern Ohio, where I am traveling right now. I love throwing on a sweater or a light jacket and especially enjoy workouts in cooler weather. What’s really fun to me about the shifting temperature is my wine palate. This really does happen to me as the temperature drops; it innately shifts from craving crisp lighter wines to opting for a bit more body.
During the end of summer, I’m fully enjoying sprightly whites like Spanish Albarino from Rias Biaxas, delightfully satisfying Alsace Pinto Gris or Blanc, Chilean Sauvignon Blanc and even an occasional unoaked (or barely oaked) Chardonnay. When it’s hot out, it’s hard to reach for rich, full bodied reds which feel heavier and frequently overwhelm the simple fresh summer ingredients I eat in warm weather.
As I considered this transition this year, I’ve decided to ease my way back to voluptuous reds, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel rather than jump right in. It’s like the Fall into Winter transition for my palate. Where does that take me in the red wine aisle, you wonder? Right now it’s taking me down to southern Spain, to the regions of Jumilla, Yecla and — for the wonderful expressions of Monastrell (more commonly referred to as Mouvedre in France.) While it’s a variety which is usually high in tannins and alcohol and thus a popular variety to use in blends, it’s come a long way into it’s own independent elegance.
Eric Asimov also recently covered this seemingly obscure little grape and here’s how he summed up the history and its rise:
In the last 25 years, though, Monastrell has redefined itself. More precisely, the producers of the Levant, primarily in sun-drenched appellations within sniffing distance of the Mediterranean like Jumilla, Alicante, Yecla and Bullas, have invested in the potential of Monastrell. They’ve vastly improved the viticulture and the winemaking, and have raised their ambitions accordingly. If they are not producing great wines exactly, the best bottles are a far cry from the indifferent wines of old, and offer a new and welcome expression of what Monastrell from this land can offer.
Monastrell producers faced a different situation from those in other emerging Spanish regions. Unlike, say, Ribeira Sacra or Bierzo, these coastal regions have a history of producing inexpensive wines for export. As wine production has globalized over the last 30 years, competition has intensified with Argentina, Chile, Australia and other New World regions selling seas of sound, fruity wine. For the Monastrell producers, getting better was a matter of survival.
While Monastrell rarely barrel aged, it has just enough body, wonderful juiciness and a satisfying black currant, black berry and dark plum flavors to brighten up an everyday meal. Price-wise, you can’t beat it either for an under $10 bottle. (I found it at Cost Plus World Market in Evanston.)
The bottle I’ve been appreciating regularly is the gorgeous 2011 Tarima Monastrell from Jumilla, Spain. It opens up in the glass with fragrant aromas of dark fruit (blackberry and blueberry) and some sublet floral notes of violets. On the palate, it’s smooth and silky in texture, juicy in fruit, and shows bright acidity and lots of minerals finishing with a hint of lightly chalky tannins from the limestone the vines were grown in What a pleasure.
As with all wine by specific producers in specific vintage, the exact bottle may not be available at a wine shop near you. Be sure you ask your favorite wine merchant what similar wines he/she may carry in the same category. Happy sipping and please give me your feedback on what you tried.