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MAY 7, 2011: Paso Robles 2007 Mourvèdre Showdown

We fell in love with Mourvèdre immediately and wholeheartedly when we first tasted Cass Winery's 2005 version. We were hooked forever after drinking their 06. From that vintage, you could probably count on two hands the wineries who were making 100%/varietal bottlings of this grape in Paso or in the whole country for that matter. Believe me I was looking. If we wanted our fix we had to head into the Spanish aisle for some Monastrell. Imagine my joy when they started popping up everywhere the following year. Seems like 2007 was just right for growing Mourvèdre. With all the Rhone varieties gaining traction in the Central Coast, more winemakers were going out on a limb and producing this wine – there are now 400+ acres planted in California alone – of a grape most people have never heard of. Not made in large quantities – much of it is still used for blending – and not easy to come by – it's mainly only sold in the tasting rooms – but it is no longer that scarce. So I started collecting them. In the beginning it was something of a lark, but as more and more appeared, I began to wonder if I got enough of them and was able to taste them all together, would a notion of Paso Robles "terroir" show itself? Would I be able to get a handle on the inherent qualities of this up-and-coming player?


THE LINE-UP: (All are 100% and estate grown unless noted)

  • Adelaida Cellars – $30 – 15.1% abv – 198 cases – 1st Bottling – Barrel aged 21 months in 100% neutral French oak.

  • Anglim Winery, Hastings Ranch Vyd – $34 – 14.9% abv – 233 cases – 1st Bottling – aged in 100% French oak barrels, approximately 20% new for 17 months.

  • Calcareous Winery Reserve – $42 – 15.8% abv – 185 cases – 1st Bottling – Aged in French Oak barriques

  • Denner Vineyards – $42 – 14.8% abv – 440 cases – 85% Mourvèdre/10% Counnoise/5% Syrah – 2nd Bottling

  • Edward Sellers Winery – $35 – 14.8% abv – 96 cases – 1st Bottling – Aged in 100% French Oak, 50% new.

  • Minassian-Young Winery – $23 – 15.8% abv – 176 cases – 80% Mourvèdre/20% Syrah – 3rd Bottling

  • Mooney Family Wines – $36 – 15.2% abv – 240 cases – 83% Mourvèdre/17% Grenache – 1st Bottling – Aged 20 months in French Oak.

  • Oso Libre Winery – $42 – 14.8% abv – 175 cases – 1st Bottling – Aged for 14 months in 30% new Hungarian oak and 70% neutral French oak.

  • Tablas Creek Vineyards – $35 – 14.5% abv – 300 cases – 90% Mourvèdre/10% Syrah – 5th Bottling – Aged for 6 mos in 1200-gallon foudres until blending, then aged for an additional year in 190-gallon demi-muids.

  • Villa Creek Winery – $40 – 15.2% – 205 cases – 1st Bottling – Aged for 18 months in new French Oak.

  • Villicana Winery – $30 – 15.7% – 50 cases – 1st Bottling

    The tasting was done blind with no ringers in the group. Just 2007s from Paso Robles. I thought about throwing an 08 Cass in there (they didn't make an 07 due to frost damage), but that wouldn't have been fair and skewed the results. I was looking for what this specific vintage brought to the table. Pretty much popped and poured, given the wines were 4 years old. (People were able to retaste.) I was the only person in the whole group who had tasted them all, but hadn't had any of them for at least 6 months. The only wines I had drunk outside a quick sip in the tasting room were the Anglim and the Adelaida. I was pretty sure I would be able to pick the Anglim out because it has a distinct peppery finish.

    I had gathered a group of wine lovers/drinkers, some familiar with the grape, others not. Two with professional, serious palates and tasting chops. The rest of us just really like the grape and like to try new things. We pretty much just went through the lineup – randomly bagged and lettered – using a basic 20-point system to rate our impressions and in the end tallied up everyone's Top 3 picks for the ultimate winner. The only requirement was to see if people could pick out the cheapest wine. The rest were too close in price to warrant a guess in the other direction. I suppose we could have weighted everyone's choices, as real panels do for more accuracy, but that would have required too much math after too much drinking. (In doing a post-mortem, the results stayed true.)

    07Mshootoutwinners.jpgTHE WINNERS:
    1) Anglim Winery
    2) Villicana Winery
    3) Villa Creek

    So, what were my conclusions? Well, the wines were more savory and subdued than I expected, but that makes sense since they all have at least a year of bottle age, if not two. The favorites were all over the map. The winner had one of the lowest abvs (14.9%), the runner-up the 2nd highest (15.7%), with 3rd place somewhere in the middle (15.2%). The first two are on the lower-end of the price scale, the 3rd tied for most expensive. I was able to pick out the Anglim, which was nice. It was the most aromatic, elegant and complex. At least for me...and half the rest of the group. My favorites were the same ones I remember loving in the tasting rooms (Anglim, Denner, Villa Creek, Edward Sellers), which surprised me a bit but at least I'm consistent and know what I like. No one picked the Minassian-Young as the cheapest wine (it tied with the Mooney for 4th). Not really a surprise, as these things go. It was fruity and open and hid it's 15.8% abv much better than the Calcareous, which costs $20 more and was not well-received, getting only one Top 3 vote. It was in my Top 5 along with Ed Sellers/Villicana which tied for my fifth spot. The wine everyone enjoyed the least was Adelaida Cellars. This was quite a shock to me because I really, really liked it the last time I had it, when it showed lush black fruit, spice and earth. This time the wine was unbalanced, one-dimensional and alcoholic. Either it's aging at an alarming rate, or this was a flawed bottle. Still have another one, so will have to crack it soon and see what's going on.

    After tasting them all side by side, I have to say that, for the price, there was a noticeable lack of complexity, on the nose and palate in many of the wines, though as a whole they were well-balanced and well-crafted. If this was a double blind tasting, I don't think I would have guessed many of them were mourvèdres. The QPR was not great considering the bulk of them were over $35 and just about everyone scored their least favorites under 14 points and their top picks around 17-18 points. Instead of fueling my love of this grape, it made me see why it's generally used as a blender and not bottled on its own. Given a little more time out of the bottle, many of them would probably have performed better, but I did retaste most of them later that night and I didn't change my opinion on a single wine.

    Since I have a second bottle of most, more detailed reviews will come when I have the chance to really sit down and savor. I think all of them have another year or two in the bottle with the exception of those with a 15.5%+ abv. The 2007 vintage was clearly a special one in the region with many winemakers taking a chance with these bottlings to see if the public would bite. These were not the usual CA Rhone fruit bombs, the grapes inherent earthy/meatiness showing through in all the wines. So those who are looking for Rhones on the more savory side, should seek this varietal out. It will be interesting to see who sticks it out with this varietal – and if they get better as the vineyards gain some age – and who will just make Mourvèdre when Mother Nature is especially generous. I, for one, am going to continue collecting and hope more winemakers give this grape an opportunity to become as great as I believe it can be. When it hits the mark, combining just the right amounts of spice, fruit and earth, there's just nothing like it.

    The Anglim, Edward Sellers and Minassian-Young 2007 mourvèdres are still available. All others are sold out. Sorry.

    In the Paso Robles area Adelaida Cellars, Cass Winery, Denner Vineyards, Hug Cellars, Kenneth Volk Vineyards, Pipestone Winery, Sans Leige, Tablas Creek Vineyards, Venteux Vineyards, and Villacana Winery already have 08s in the works or in current release. You can also find other bottlings from the Santa Barbara region from Tercero Wines, Jaffurs Winery and Zaca Mesa Winery.

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