Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Monastrell tasting at Ross Bott

Very instructive Ross Bott blind-tasting session last night - Spanish Mourvèdre, or as it's called in Spain - Monastrell. The session was under-attended - only 5 of us, which confirms the relative obscurity or unpopularity of this grape variety here. This was great for me, as I had plenty of wine to analyze, all to myself, and had an opportunity to try something uncommon. Of course, for those who like Southern Rhone wines, Mourvèdre is one of the three main grapes used in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Lirac, and many other reds from the South of France. It is supposed to add "structure" or "backbone" (meaning "tannin" primarily) to the Rhone blends (classically consisting of Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre).

Most of the relatively better known Monastrell-based wines in Spain come from the appellation called Jumilla, in the Southeast Spain in the region of Murcia near the Mediterranean, though one of the 7 wines we tasted came from La Mancha region, and another one from Yecla appellation (also in Murcia).

After tasting the 7 wines, here are my summed-up impressions:

Sweet-bitter tannins, minty-charcoal-and-black-pepper spice, funky/dusty smells, stale beef jerky, dark and not very aromatic fruit, alcoholic, not acidic, rough / unrefined.

One other exciting thing happened at the blind tasting - I hit my goal of the smallest possible rank deviation from the group rank (or as I called it in computer science lingo - "smallest edit distance"). Normally, after each taster ranks the wines, the individual scores are added up for the combined group ranking. Considering that many people in the tasting are normally far more experienced than myself, I strive for getting as close to that combined ranking as possible. Last time, I was quite far off. This time, I ranked all wines exactly in accordance with the combined ranking, except I had wines 4 and 5 reversed, but those tied in the combined group rank, with the tie-break resulting against me. (The tie-break looks at how many people preferred this wine as their #2 and so on). So my edit distance was 2! (and could have been counted as 0, with the above caveat!)

For reference, here are my tasting notes:
  1. Wine A - my rank: 3, group rank: 3 - later revealed as Vinos Sin-Ley "m3" by Diego Fernandez 2005 - Nose: moss, dust, warm funk, some cream & raspberry. Taste: bitter, tannic.
  2. Wine B - my rank: 5, group rank: 4 (tied with 5) - later revealed as Altos de la Hoya 2003 - Note: meat, jerkey, funk, stinky, barn. Taste: soapy, charcoal
  3. Wine C - my rank: 1, group rank: 1 - later revealed as Casa Castillo Las Gravas 2000 - Nose: less funk, the cleanest of the bunch. Taste: good, a bit green, tannic, I like it.
  4. Wine D - my rank: 2, group rank: 2 - later revealed as Bodegas Hijos de Juan Gil 2003 - Nose: cream & lush, coffee. Taste: soft, creamy, ripe, sweet tannins. I like it.
  5. Wine E - my rank: 4, group rank: 5 (tied with 4) - later revealed as Bodegas Olivares Jumilla Panarroz 2004 - Nose: dust. Taste: sweet, low acid, bitter fine texture, tannic.
  6. Wine F - my rank: 7, group rank: 7 - later revealed as Castaño Solanera 2003 - Nose: dust, leather, canned fish. Taste: bitter burnt sweet blueberry.
  7. Wine G - my rank: 6, group rank: 6 - later revealed as Bodegas Luzon Monastrell 2004 - Nose: funky, cured dust, blueberry, pepper, green berry, green wood, weedy, a bit alcoholic. Taste: green tannins, soft texture, sweet bitter spice & tannin.
Though I am glad I came to the tasting to learn about Monastrell, frankly I wasn't impressed by any of the wines we tasted, and can see why this makes a far better blending grape for Rhone-style blends than wines on its own. The wines were in the $10-30 range, and they did NOT seem to get better as they got more expensive. Bandol (in Southeast France) is supposed to have higher end Mourvèdre-based wines that Gary Vaynerchuk was impressed with. So if I must try this again, it will be something from Bandol.

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