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The Monastrell Grape

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About Monastrell

(Synonyms: Alcayata, Alicante, Damas Noir, Esparte, Mataró, Monastre, Monastrell, Motaro, Mourvèdre, Mourves, Negria, Pinot Fleri, Torrentes, Trinchiera)

Background

Monastrell grapes Map showing Spanish wine regions

Monastrell—also commonly known as Mourvèdre and Mataró—is a red-wine grape most likely originating in Spain, where it is still very widely grown, but also now planted and vinified pretty much throughout the wine-producing world. It was commonly used as a major ingredient of certain blended reds, but is increasingly being bottled as a premium monovarietal.

The wines can vary a lot, depending on vineyard location and winemaker style, but the common elements are high acids and tannins over surprisingly soft flavors of red fruit (strawberry, raspberry, cherry); especially when young, it can also exhibit so-called "earthy" overtones (sometimes called, by those who fancy them less, "barnyard" qualities). When not so well grown as it might be, its wines can show pronounced (many would say excessive) jam-like or herbaceous qualities, qualities that are good in moderation but not in excess.

The name by which the grape and its wines is called is chiefly regional: Monastrell in Spain (which produces the largest quantity; Mourvèdre in France (where it is an important grape in Rhône blends); and Mataro in Australia (and often in the U.S. as well, where it is also widely called Mourvèdre). But the careful buyer will also discover Monastrell hiding under several regional blend names, in which blends it is often either the sole or dominating grape; in Spain, those include the appellations of Alicante, Almansa, Jumilla, Valencia, and Yecla. In France, many Rhône reds include significant amounts of Mourvèdre; reds of the Bandol appellation must be at least 50% Mourvèdre. A common blend will feature Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre (the so-called "GSM" blends, in which the Mourvèdre notably contributes color, fruitiness, and some tannins). When grown in the U.S., as it is from California up through Washington State, it produces wines with somewhat less tannin and a smoke/spice/game quality overlaying a cherry-like fruit nature.

Monastrell does not seem to take to oak as much as many comparable red wines, and so is commonly vinified in neutral or large barrels.

Factoid: Monastrell is thought by some to have been introduced into the Iberian peninsula by Phoenician traders as early as half a millennium BC.


Some Descriptions of Monastrell Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "Mourvèdre tends to produce tannic wines that can be high in alcohol. . . According to wine expert Jancis Robinson, in favorable vintages Mourvèdre can produce highly perfumed wines with intense fruit flavors and notes of blackberries and gamy or meaty flavors. Oz Clarke notes that some examples of Mourvèdre may come across as faulted in their youth with "farmyard-y" and strong herbal flavors. As the wine ages, more earthy tertiary aromas may develop before becoming more leather and gingerbread aroma notes."

  • Tablas Creek

    "Wines made from Mourvèdre are intensely colored, rich and velvety with aromas of red fruit, chocolate/mocha, mint, leather, earth and game. They tend to be high in mid-palate tannin, and are well-suited to aging, although they are also often more approachable when young than the more overtly-tannic Grenache or Syrah. In middle-age (anywhere from two to five years after bottling) Mourvèdre-heavy wines often close down and become tight and unyielding. This closed period can last for as little as a year, or in extraordinary vintages as long as a decade. When the wines reopen, the meaty flavors present in youth resolve into aromas of forest floor, leather and truffles. The more intense a Mourvèdre-based wine is, the longer it stays open at the beginning, the longer it stays closed, and the longer it will drink well after it reopens.

  • Wine Searcher

    "Mourvedre's meaty, herby aromas are very distinctive, as are its strong tannins. These qualities make it a potent ingredient for blending, most often with vibrant, rich Grenache and structured, spicy Syrah . . . Today, Mourvedre vines still line the coastal hillsides of Bandol, and the variety constitutes at least one half of the region's tannic, meaty red wines and its gently spicy rosés – some of the finest in the world. . . Spanish Monastrell wines tend to be rich, dark affairs, frequently showing flavors of blackberry and black cherry. . Australian and Californian examples of the variety are typically richer and more fruit-driven than those produced around the Mediterranean."

  • Wine Folly

    "Mourvedre is a meaty and full-bodied red wine. The smell of Mourvedre is an explosion of dark fruit, flowers like violet and herbaceous aromas of black pepper, thyme, and red meat. In regions such as Bandol, France and Jumilla, Spain, Mourvedre wine can have a very gamey taste. Some believe the unctuous aromas in many Mourvedre wines are in part due to a wine fault called reduction. Because of this, Mourvedre benefits from decanting."

  • i-winereview

    "Monastrell presents several challenges to the winemaker. First and foremost, because of the region’s high temperatures, care must be taken in the vineyard to harvest fruit that is optimally ripe phenolically but not overly ripe and jammy. Secondly, because Monastrell produces hard tannic wines there is need to reduce harsh tannin extraction by handling fruit as gently as possible, carefully controlling the temperature and speed of fermentation, and mascerating grapes with skins. In addition, because Monastrell is highly reductive, winemakers need to do more frequent pumpovers and racking during fermentation and barrel aging. Also, the better winemakers of Murcia are quickly learning how to tame the wild character of the grape through blending and other means in order to produce more fruit forward and accessible wines while still retaining some of the earthy characteristics that make Monastrell wines unique. "

  • winegeeks

    "High in tannins Monastrell has lots of black fruit flavors as well as spices, leather, and in less-ripe conditions, herbal nuances."

  • Eric Asimov, The New York Times

    "Naturally, we found a few in the thick-and-jammy style, but they were far and away the exceptions. Many more of the wines seemed to possess an earthy, distinctly Spanish point of view. That is to say, they were full of dark flavors reminiscent, perhaps, of plums and licorice, but without the brooding, sometimes savage character of Bandol. Another way of putting that, I suppose, is that they distinguish what makes monastrell different from mourvèdre. . . On one side were more traditionally inspired wines, which seemed a little rougher in character, with evident tannins and, to my mind at least, a greater sense of distinctiveness. On the other were sleeker, more polished wines that seemed to have been constructed with modern, international markets in mind. A third style also emerged, juicy picnic-style wines that were softer than is typical of this grape, maybe with dark shadings but uncharacteristically exuberant."

  • Wine Access

    "A sparsely planted variety found predominantly in the southern Rhone, Provence, and elsewhere near the Mediterranean coast, Mourvedre is best known for its place in powerful game and earth-scented reds. One is mostly likely to encounter the grape in wines from the southern Rhone. Here, Mourvedre takes its place blended with Grenache and Syrah, notably in the wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. If you want to discover what the grape offers on its own, head to the appellation of Bandol, in Provence. Provence may be best known for the widespread production of rose wines, but for serious wines in the region, Bandol is the first (and for many, the only) stop. Here, wines are dominated by Mourvedre, and in some examples, this grape is the sole variety. Because of the high percentage of Mourvedre, wines from Bandol can be fiercely tannic upon release, and often demand at least six to eight years of cellaring. After this time, this wines will gain nuance and grace, complementing their underlying savory and musky characteristics. . . In Spain, Mourvedre is known as Monastrell or Mataro, and it is planted heavily on the southeastern Mediterranean coast, including the appellations of Jumila and Yecla."

  • Mike Steinberger, Slate

    "Mourvèdre does not suit everyone's taste. More to the point, its smell can be a turn-off: One of the grape's signature aromas is a certain gaminess—what the French call animale. Some people, confronted with this distinctive odor, will wonder what fell into the glass and died. Mourvèdre also tends to display a leathery quality and a degree of earthiness, and while the wines it yields do not lack for fruit—they are usually marked by plum, raspberry, or blackberry flavors or various combinations thereof—they can be a bit austere."

  • Professional Friends of Wine

    "Wine makers frequently use mourvèdre's dark, thick-skinned berries in blends to boost color and tannin, but often bemoan its absence of distinct flavors and proclivity to oxidation, which co-fermentation with other varieties can help to avoid. Beginning in the early 1980s, several Australian wineries popularized various blends of Grenache, Shiraz, and Mataro as "GSM" wines; the combination has also become common in California. Unblended Mourvèdre wines tend to be deep-colored, quite tannic, although somewhat moderate in acid and alcohol, and have generally "earthy-spicy" aromas in their youth. The "gamey" aroma often found in mourvèdre may be accentuated by this variety's inclination to become contaminated with brettanomyces. . . In California, mourvèdre was historically called mataro and was losing ground literally until the demand for Rhône-type varietals began to surge in the late 1980s. Even today, more than 60% of the 800+ acres planted statewide are in Madera, Contra Costa, and San Luis Obispo Counties."


Some Monastrells to Try

(About this list.)

We would have liked to include some Bandol Mourvèdres, but all of them seem well out of our selected price range ($20 or less), as do most or all worthy New World specimens. What we do have is a round of well-thought-of Spanish Monastrells, all excellent values.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Casa Castillo Monastrell, $9 - $15.
    (Jumilla)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Meaty and fleshy plum aromas from the cork. Aromas of blackberry, violet, cedar oak, and smoked meat from the glass. Medium-bodied on the palate with ripe, dark fruits and subtle violet notes. Very smooth and well-balanced with very finely-grained tannins. Delicious. Great QPR! Score: 89 points.

    Dark garnet hue. Aromas of blackberry fruit and forest floor. Soft, round attack with an elegant palate of ripe black fruit and notes of chocolate. A big, tannic wine with complex aromas, fine-grained tannins, and a persistent finish.

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (September 2012), 90 points.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (3 February 2011), 89 points.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (December 2012), 89 points.

    Casa Castillo’s 2011 Monastrell comes from incredibly low yields (16 hectoliters per hectare). It reveals abundant flavor along with a chalky minerality, dense blueberry and blackberry fruit intermixed with a hint of spring flowers, medium body and a supple texture. This is an amazing red wine for such a lowly price. I have enjoyed previous offerings from the 86-year-old vines planted on these north-facing limestone slopes.

    Dark ruby. Sexy, high-pitched aromas of raspberry, cherry, star anise and candied rose, with a touch of orange zest. Smells like a ripe pinot noir. Fleshy and seamless, offering sappy red fruit flavors and a bitter note of rhubarb. Subtle vanilla and licorice notes linger on the smooth, gently tannic finish. Lots of wine for the money.

    This is the entry-level Monastrell wine of the flagship winery of the region. Casa Castillo is renowned for trying to soften Monastrell's tannins to the maximum and for seeking finesse rather than power (not always easy in a region as torrid as Jumilla). However, this 2011 Monastrell is their riper wine. The tannins are massive but rounded, really savoury and concentrated and the wine shows an inky density. Cassis, cherry juice, liqueur and damson dominate the aromas.

    The estate’s entry level Monastrell, the 2011 Casa Castillo Monastrell Jumilla nevertheless comes from very old vineyards and chalky, north facing slopes of the Sierra del Molar mountain. Aged for 6 months in neutral French oak demi-muids, it is loaded with black and blue fruits, spice, bramble, and pepper, as well as a big, voluptuously rich texture that stays beautifully fresh and clean. Turning chocolaty and chewy on the finish, it has a crowd pleasing style, yet is no simple effort and has real depth and character.

    This feels rich on the palate with enough tannin and balance to keep it out of Frankenwine territory. It’s also a reliable bargain and pretty easy to find.

    From sustainably farmed vineyards, the Casa Castillo Monastrell is aged in older, larger oak barrels. This provides extra body and subtle flavor to the wine, without dominating or overpowering the great Monastrell fruit with oaky notes.

    Dark red-violet in colour with aromas of grape jam and hints of toasted oak. Cherry, plum, herbaceous traces and cheerful acidity were supported by smooth tannins and a clean fruity finish. Straightforward and friendly, this is a great match with pizza and simple pasta dishes. (And a good value at $9.)


  • Castaño "Hecula" Monastrell, $9 - $15.
    (Yecla)
         ($12.64 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Not sure if there is a better wine at this price available anywhere. Such an incredible deal. Thick and rich currants, blackberry, mature plums and lovely vanilla spice on the nose. The palate reveals ripe dark fruits, liquorice-anise notes, spices and vibrant acidity for balance. Just a good, honest red wine to serve with grilled steak or roasted lamb.

    Monastrell is a Spanish red grape that has a fair amount of fruit and (particularly in this incarnation) has a dry tannic firmness to it. Some people may not love that, but I did. It’s food friendly without being overbearing. Young, ripe with a dusty red fruit flavor that’s peaks rather quickly. Fast on the finish too, but what can you really expect in this price range. This is a Value Pick all the way, and a good one to check out. Not for everybody but at $7 it’s hard for me not to like it. 87 points.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (date unknown), 90 Points.

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (September/October 2012), 90 Points.

    Saturated ruby. Smoky, spice-accented aromas of cherry, cassis and anise, with a subtle mineral quality in the background. Pliant and expansive, offering deep dark fruit flavors and showing a creamy texture. Sweet and penetrating on a youthfully tannic finish with distinct licorice and cherry notes.

    The 2003 Hecula, aged in equal parts tank and French wood, is produced from ancient, non-irrigated Mourvedre vines planted in pure limestone. Inky ruby/purple to the rim, with a sweet bouquet of ripe plums, figs, raspberries, and cherries, it boasts a terrific texture, enviable purity, medium to full body, and a long, seamless finish.

    The monastrell grape in southern Spain makes many delicious juicy dark, full bodied reds like this wine. It is wonderfully smooth with vibrant acidity that gives it a degree of elegance that will cost you over $20 normally. Expect aromas of blackberry with fragrant lavender, vanilla and cocoa plus some raspberry jam notes. The palate is rich yet not heavy and its finishes dry with some meaty notes and fine tannin for grip. Very good length. 90 points.

    Nose – Blueberry, raspberry, cherry and vanilla bean. Taste – Raspberry, basil, green pepper and leather. Mouthfeel – very smooth and round, dry velvety tannins and slightly spicy. Finish – Medium in length and oddly a hint of citrus and black olive (seriously). This was a very nice wine, especially at the price of $13 dollars. Very approachable, lots of fruit up front with a nice back end lace of herbs and green veggies adding good complexity and depth. At the price, I don’t think you could go wrong picking up a bottle for yourself, and even if it was a few dollars more it would still be a good value.

    Since I bought it for $7 about three years ago, I had low expectations that the wine would still even be good. But it was a Tuesday night, so what the hey. Wow, was it good, perhaps the most rewarding under $10 wine I’ve had in a long time. Alluring notes of grilled meat drippings, leather and tobacco permeated the aroma and the wine actually had an attack, a midpalate, and a lingering finish.

    Aged for six months in oak barrels, this is a very full-on red wine that mellows and smooths out with the paired food match. Opening with a shyer nose, this is a wine with big, round tannins, big, sharp acidity, black fruits, black florals and a bit of smoke. A sitting down wine, so rather than obvious aromas and flavours, this red takes a bit of time to appreciate the subtlety. That time rewards you with nuances of licorice, sweet spice and plenty of woodsy notes.

    The Hecula is 100% non irrigated, old vine Monastrell, 50% aged in tank and 50% aged in French oak. Like many parts of Spain, Yecla is dry, arid and warm and you can sense the heat from the region as the color is dark purple and opaque with ripe flavors of raisins, chocolate, blackberries, figs and star anise. It sounds heavy but it's not and should pair well with a variety of meat or seafood and rice dishes.

    Deliberately made in a more fruit-forward modern style, this is well-made, generously ripe, concentrated and more softly rounded than the other Castano wines. It will certainly please most palates. What is lost, though, is a certain rustic, earthy character and individuality. I prefer the latter, especially at the price.

    Too bracing and crisp to be called a crowd-pleaser (acid haters beware), this red will appeal to those with a taste for bone-dry, earthy Spanish bargains. Monastrell is the same as mourvèdre, a tannic grape that delivers astringent backbone. The wine is full-bodied, plummy and herbal and would enjoy the company of fatty meats, such as sausages or lamb. 89 points.


  • Castillo del Baron Monastrell, $9 - $15.
    (Yecla)

    Some quotations and facts:

    A warm and juicy red. Black and blue fruit aromas mix with medicinal, green herb and chocolate notes, along with a slightly earthy tone. There is a little heat from high alcohol on the nose as well, which can also be found on the palate. Ripe and round in the mouth, with juicy black fruits, toasty oak and more of the herbal and slightly medicinal notes, but not in an entirely bad way. Soft and chewy, but with a hard vein of acidity, which turns slightly volatile, but not enough at this point to be too troublesome.

    The earthy-smelling aromas of red berry and plum are snappy and rustic. It feels fresh, zesty and deep, with bright but basic tasting berry flavors that transition to chocolate and herb before the scratchy feeling finish. This is a good wine with moderate depth and complexity. 85 points.

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (September/October 2011), 88 points.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (2011), 89 points.

    Made from 100% Monastrell (Mourvedre), Casa Castillo’s 2011 Monastrell comes from incredibly low yields (16 hectoliters per hectare). It reveals abundant flavor along with a chalky minerality, dense blueberry and blackberry fruit intermixed with a hint of spring flowers, medium body and a supple texture. This is an amazing red wine for such a lowly price.

    Deep ruby. Blackberry and plum compote on the nose, with subtle cocoa, vanilla and violet nuances adding complexity. Lush and broad, with good depth to its slightly jammy dark fruit flavors. The clinging finish features a suggestion of bitter licorice.

    Dark ruby. Ripe black raspberry and blueberry liqueur on the nose. Dark concentrated fruit and herbal flavors on the palate with firm tannins. Well done for the price. 88 points.

    Casa Castillo’s 2010 Monastrell (100%) was produced entirely from estate-grown fruit and aged for 6 months in seasoned French oak. Underbrush, brier, blue fruit, and a hint of chocolate inform the nose of this firm, concentrated, intensely flavored effort. Nicely proportioned and lengthy, this excellent value will [as of 2012] deliver enjoyment over the next 3-4 years.

    [T]he dense 2010 Castillo del Baron from Yecla . . . had a brightness to it due, perhaps, to the fact that 25 percent of the blend is made by carbonic maceration, a winemaking technique employed widely in Beaujolais.  . . Dense and dark, yet bright with floral and licorice flavors.

    Aroma - bright red fruit, a little floral, a little hot. Taste - a little fruit, a little tea, soft tannins, slightly bitter finish.

    Bursting bright cherry and spice, combined with an earthy, dark chocolate character. . . Crisp acidity, dry and peppery. Let it breathe and chill slightly. From Yecla. 86 points, GOOD BUY.

    Call it Monastrell or call it Mourvedre… I call this wine damn good. The 2007 Castillo del Baron Monastrell is one of the spiciest red wines that I’ve tried in a long time. I really enjoyed its heavy black peppery taste. Unfortunately though, the fruit part was no match for its big spices. It does have very nice black and red fruit flavors and a great spicy finish. If this wine just had a tad more fruit in it, it would be a “knock you over the head” crazy good wine. The 2007 Castillo del Baron Monastrell is a perfect match for anything off the grill (especially steak) or any Spanish dishes. Of the red wines we’ve tried in 2009, this ranks near the top of the list.


  • Volver "Tarima Hill" Monastrell, $11 - $16.
    (Jumilla)

    Some quotations and facts:

    A blockbuster of a wine offering a tremendous amount of tasty fruit and earthy supporting components. Gets a little fakey grapey at times, and the 15% abv shows itself at points. But my goodness - can you complain in the $8-$9 range? Silly value here. Silly. 89 points.

    This was the best wine by far enjoyed Christmas Eve. .  Bodegas Volver “Tarima Hill” Monastrell is garnet red in color, with a lively bouquet of ripe cherry, blackberry, raisin and pipe tobacco, accented by a light floral note. The intense, full-bodied palate shows concentrated layers of red berry, dark chocolate, and is complimented by both finely-tuned tannins and balanced acidity. This is a $20 wine that tastes like a $50 wine and the notes say you can drink it for the next 10 years.

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (November 2011), 90 points.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (October 2012), 93 points.

    The opaque purple-colored 2010 Tarima Hill exhibits notes of chocolate fudge, pen ink, graphite, blueberries and blackberries. This full-bodied, 100% Monastrell should drink well for a decade or more. These amazing efforts taste more like they should cost $30 to $50 as opposed to the mid-teens. . . These cuvees come from the winery's oldest vines (20 acres of ungrafted vines that were planted in 1935) planted on the highest elevations.

    Bright ruby. A highly perfumed nose displays cherry, raspberry, pipe tobacco and Asian spices. Juicy and precise on the palate, with very good depth to its sweet red berry, bitter cherry and spice flavors. Fine-grained tannins add shape and grip to a long, silky and alluringly sweet finish. This is one of the best values in red wine that I've tasted in a long time.

    This is Monastrell from the Alicante region of Spain, and it’s some of the best Monastrell I’ve tried for this price. Nose is spicy, with hints of tobacco and on the palate the wine is luscious with dark fruit, blackberry, plum, a little earth and leather. The finish is why I like Monstrell; it’s spicy and complete. The all around balance and execution of this wine is top notch and you’d be hard pressed to find many bottles of this caliber in this price range. For that reason, I’m naming it to the Bronze Rated and Value Pick lists. This is a real winner (and it scored 93 points from Wine Advocate if you’re a points person).

    Concentrated aromas of earthy black fruits and cola come with a slight burn. The aggressive, full-force palate feels grating and gritty but tastes good and smoky, with cherry and berry fruit topped off with oak and mint. It’s a bit high in acid, which creates a tangy sensation on the finish. 87 points.

    Deep purple/red color. Nose of mint, coffee, chocolate, smoke and anise. On the palate lots of ripe raspberry/cherry/blackberry fruit. Nothing outrageously complex but very nice for $13.

    Crafted from Monastrell vines (same grape as the French Mourvèdre) that range from 40-75 years old, this exceptional value from Spain brings some serious black fruit, svelte tannin, stellar spice, and a medium to fuller body profile. Downright delicious from start to well-honed finish, the Bodegas Volver "Tarima Hill" is perfect for pairing with a variety of grilled favorites, lamb shawarma, or meat empanadas.

    Full-bodied and fruit-forward with blackberry/blueberry notes as well as tasting a bit juicy. Behind the fruit there are faint hints of perfume and orange zest as well as an underlying smell of gravel. Overall the wine has a large profile.

    Inky dark purple with red-violet highlights, aromas of ripe cherry, sweet vanilla and warm summer woods radiated from the glass. Lush blackcurrant and baked cherry flavours were joined by hints of anise in the full body. Spicy black pepper and cinnamon energised raisin along with traces of caramel in the refined, moderate finish. Enthusiastically swelling with jammy fruit, spice and herbal elements, each velvety sip will keep you reaching for more.


  • Juan Gil "Silver Label" ("12 meses") Monastrell, $11 - $18.
    (Jumilla. Do not confuse this with their lesser "4 meses" "Bronze Label" bottling.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Alcohol: 15% (OMG! This is essentially as high as a dessert wine that is fortified with brandy). Color: Warm climate? Check. Richly pigmented grape? Check. This wine was dark ruby, almost violet colored. With 15% alcohol, you can expect that the legs were less elegant and more like big thick tree trunks (my notes actually say “WTF?” about the legs, which took 5 minutes to drip down the glass and were purple). I expected lots of burn down the gullet from the alcohol and lots of fruit flavor from the color. Smell: Monastrell works so well with oak here — fruit and oak aromas blended together to make this a very savory, delicious smelling wine. Coffee, mocha, and vanilla were blended with dark cherry, black plum, blackberry, and violet smells. There was a cassis/blackcurrant note that was pronounced too. Lots going on. Notably, no alcohol burn on the sniff though — a pleasant surprise and a mark of a well-made wine. Taste: A lot going on. Wow this was a fruit bomb! Tons of rhubarb and cinnamon — like a pie. Strawberry, raspberry, or blackberry infused tea popped into my mind because of the fruit and tannin sensation together. There were a ton of coffee and dark chocolate flavors from the oak. Despite the rich fruit, the wine didn’t overpower me. It had a nice amount of mouth-cleaning acid and high tannins which balanced the fruit and alcohol. The flavor went on forever on the finish. It was a whole lotta wine, but very balanced. Drink or Sink?: Drink. Let me clear: this is a BIG ASS WINE. If you like full, rich, big-bodied wines, this is for you. This is not a wine of nuance and delicacy. It kind of lays it all out there — no subtlety but that’s its beauty. A solid, well-made wine, even a few years later.

    With aromas of black pepper spice, blackberry, toasted cedar and a hint of being somewhat gamey, this was appearing to be a well-rounded, new red for me. A medium bodied mouth feel supported subtle flavors of dark cherries and plums. Where I was most impressed was how easy drinking this was especially with soft tannins and a finish of cocoa and traces of licorice.

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (September/October 2012), 89 Points.

    Bright ruby. Spice-accented aromas of black raspberry, cherry and licorice, with a peppery topnote. Juicy and precise, with good liveliness to its bitter cherry and dark berry flavors. Finishes on a tangy note, energetic and spicy. This wine offers exceptional value.

    Clove, mint, raw oak and black-fruit aromas are forward and scratchy. In the mouth, this is on the syrupy, rich side, while the flavor profile runs sweet, with hints of savory BBQ sauce and resin. A candied tasting finish is short and chunky in feel. 88 points.

    Slight sweet vanilla, dark deep fruit, concentrated, a powerful wine, lush and bold. Watch that alcohol as it creeps up on you at 15%.

    The Mouvedre or Monastrelll grape is often dismissed as "just a blending varietal", but in Jumilla it's quite capable of making single-varietal wines that are both rich and balanced. The Bodegas Juan Gil 2009 Monastrell has the typical plum, spice and meaty aromas in the nose, with flavors of currant, coffee, cocoa and just a pinch of leather on the lingering finish. This well-priced wine (around $13 a bottle) is the perfect accompaniment to your backyard BBQ, and pairs particularly well with steak.

    Monastrell is a thick skinned grape so this wine has a strong tannic structure. I left a bottle open for two days and upon revisiting it was much smoother. This is definitely a wine that would benefit from a few hours in the the decanter. The fruit flavors here are nice, primarily dark plums and blackberries. The four months spent in French and American oak lend a toasty note with hints of vanilla. Given the strong tannins make this wine is best paired with food rather than on its own.

    This is a terrific 100% Monastrell with the fruit coming from low yielding (1.8 tons/acre) 40 year old vines in a 700 m high vineyard. It is medium dark ruby garnet in color and exhibits aromas of red berries, toasty oak, earth and herbal aromas. It is full and round on the palate with big hard tannins, prominent oak, and a touch of astringency. Spends 12 months aging in French oak. 91 points.

    An intense 100% Monastrell that showcases pepper, leather, ripe fruits and woody aromas. On the palate, present tannins and mouthful. Pair with mushroom wild rice, sausage, pork and medium cheese.

    Full, rich and velvety, with a core of sweet, chewy berries and chocolate, this red has a charming candy-store quality that should please a crowd. It pleases me, and I’m not normally into confected styles.


  • Enrique Mendoza "La Tremenda" Monastrell, $12 - $17.
    (Alicante)
         ($13.34 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Aromas of prune and plum come with earthy accents and rubbery notes. The palate on this Monastrell is drawing, with rubbery tannins. Flavors lean toward blackberry, dark plum and cassis, while the finish is solid but short and clipped. For a full-bodied, value-priced wine to drink with grilled meats, this is it. 89 points; #84, 100 Best Buys of 2013.

    [O]ur top bottle, the 2009 La Tremenda from Enrique Mendoza in Alicante, a structured, complex, savory wine. This, at just $14, was also our best value. . . Complex and well structured with long-lasting, savory flavors of dark, plummy fruit and minerals. ***

    ♣ Wine Advocate (date unknown), 88 points.

    The 2009 La Tremenda is a pure Monastrell from the namesake vineyard planted in 1984, raised for 10 to 14 months in second year oak. It has a very ripe nose of wild strawberry, baked red cherry and dark chocolate, cloaked in some warm alcohol. The palate is medium-bodied with supple tannins, light acidity and a caressing, clean, heart-warming finish of black cherries and cassis fruit that do not overwhelm. This is a finely crafted red from Alicante.

    The 2008 Enrique Mendoza La Tremenda Monastrell has a strong and savory bouquet of mixed red and black fruit, lots of dried herbs and a dash of leather. Tasting the wine reveals jammy mixed berries, dried herbs, and some good prominent tannins. (Prominent, but not overdone by any means.) This is a very good, rich wine with some savory smoky notes. The finish is long, dry and spicy with a bit of mocha, some earthiness and a little dark berry. Viva la Monastrell Taste Rating: 7; Cost Rating: 8; Overall Rating: 7.3. Recommended Buy.

    Dark forest fruits and wooded groves, open and wild yet bright and fresh. Soft but full-flavoured, quite dense and expressive, on the warm side with some clear ripe red fruit characters, good purity and drive with some nice lingering fresh fruits and bright tannins.

    Grade=Outstanding. 100% Monastrell (Mourvedre). Robust and full-bodied with its smoky blue fruits, clove tobacco and hints of roasted vanilla bean and cocoa. Smooth from beginning to end.

    A nose of cherry, leather and pepper, very fresh for a 2008 [in 2012]. The palate is awash with characters of strawberry, cherry, spice and pepper. The tannin structure is great in this wine, nice and chewy and lingers in the mouth. Score: 17.5 out of 20 Freakin’ awesome. (88 out of 100).

    Made from a single vineyard of Monastrell grapes planted nearly 30 years ago, this Alicante, Spain-born beauty is rich and deeply structured with notes of dark fruits and subtle minerality and spice.


  • Vinos Sin-Ley Monastrell, $12 - $17.
    (Yecla)
         ($11.50 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Vinos Sin-Ley Monastrells can be confusing: the widely available bottling is usually called just "M" (and has a big letter M on the label), and the importer's web site does not distinguish further; but one sees references to "M1", "M2", and so on up to "M5" (and they have different, distinctive labels). It appears that those numberings refer to the region of origin of the grapes used (M1, Valencia; M2, Alicante; M3, La Mancha; M4, Bullas; M5, Yecla). The variety normally on offer is from Yecla, but there is also a bottling expressly labelled "M5". The citations below all refer to either the widely available "M" (no numeral) bottling or the Yecla M5 bottling (which should be identical or very close to it). Also, retailers and reviewers often tag the wine name with "Old Vines", though that does not show on (at least) the front label, and probably applies to all their bottlings.

    Dark red-violet in colour after aerating aromas of blueberries, dried herbs and hints of toasted oak rose from the glass. Cherry and blueberry flavours were supported by traces of rich leather and clove elements in the medium body. Spicy white pepper, bitter dark chocolate and sweet raisin notes comprised the moderate finish. Straightforward and easy drinking, this is a pleasant glass that can accompany a wide variety of dishes.

    ♣ International Wine cellar (date unknown), 90 Points.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (date unknown), 92 Points.

    Another stunning value from Yecla, the 2011 Vinos Sin Ley Monastrell (100% Mourvedre from organic vineyards) possesses a dense purple color as well as a big, sweet bouquet of blueberries, blackberries, and chalky, earthy soil, and a heady, rich, full-bodied finish. It combines elegance with richness despite the fact that this area is known more for the rusticity of its wines than their finesse.

    Deep ruby. Ripe cherry and blackberry scents are lifted by a peppery quality and pick up an exotic sandalwood nuance with air. Bitter cherry and spicecake flavors are sweetened by a subtle mocha quality and lifted by tangy acidity. Smooth and fruit-driven on the finish, which features supple tannins and a late kick of white pepper.

    In the glass, this is a lovely deep red/mahogany, with integrated hints of dark purple. The aroma is engaging of dark plums and oak, not pumping out of the glass, but strong and distinct. The palate is where this wine shows the best, bringing a sweet round middle of stewed plums and dark cherry. A little hint of burnt oak. Black tannin finish of moderate length. Three stars out of five.

    This region, with its hot summers and long growing season, appears to be uniquely suited to bringing the best out of monastrell. Witness this scrumptious, sturdy sipper from the Vinos Sin-Ley group of winemakers. It has deep, concentrated flavors of blackberries, blueberries and plum, with intriguing savory, smoky, meaty notes. It’s medium- to full-bodied, with chewy tannins.

    Dark fruits and raisins were highlighted by gamy and earthy undertones that offered a really smooth entrance on the palate. Dark fruit flavors intensified mid-palate and were rounded out by excellent acidity and soft tannins.

    Leathery and deep, this bottling from the emerging Yecla region is packed with pleasing bramble fruit and grippy tannins, and given depth by a bright mineral edge.

    From vines 40+ yrs old. 3 months in French oak. “Bright, pure expression of Monastrell.” Very nice. Drinks beautifully. Goes well with slightly spicy food. Clean and long. Great QPR.


For a Splurge

When one examines in detail various expert recommendations for Monastrells, especially scores (from those who give scores), it becomes clear that the highest-scoring are also among the least-expensive: for one example, The New York Times tasting panel's second-best Monastrell sells for $20 to $30, and their third-best for $27 to $34—but their best was $12 to $17, and their fourth- fifth- and sixth-best were all in the $10 to $15 range (and all but the very best were scored about the same). The same general pattern holds for most other sources reviewing multiple specimens. So the list presented above already contains many of the best Monastrells you can obtain.

On the other hand, Mourvèdres, though they are from the same grape, tend to be vinified somewhat differently, notably in the famous wines of the Bandol region of France, so if one wants to pop a bit extra for a wine presumably a bit extra, Bandol is the place to look, because few if any Bandol wines are available for under about $25 (and most are rather more). Whether a pricey Bandol is "better" than a good Monastrell is a subjective judgement on which there is little agreement, most sources holding that they are almost two different wines. One thing about Bandol reds, however: they really do not show well unless properly bottle aged. To quote Eric Asimov of The New York Times:

The wine tends to be tough in its youth, with an almost feral intensity, conveying the notion of a wild grape and landscape that won’t be tamed by a winemaker’s bag of tricks. With their staunch grip on identity and terroir, the best Bandols refuse to accede to contemporary winemaking’s importuning to be easy, accessible and friendly. Indeed, good Bandol needs time. While our selection [in 2014] ranged from 2011 back to 2007, I would say that every bottle in our top 10 would benefit from more aging. They can be enjoyed young — even the 2011s won’t be offensive. But, as with Barolo or Bordeaux, a good 10 years of aging will soften the brutishness, revealing many more facets within.

A choice as good as many and better than some for a Bandol is the relatively modest in price but highly rated Domaine de la Bastide Blanche Bandol Rouge with reasonable availability at prices from $24 - $29. (This Bandol is, like most, a blend, but the Mourvèdre dominates it.) If you get a bottle and don't choose to age it, do be sure to give it a very long decanting period before serving it.



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