Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mourvedre Tasting: Hewitson Old Garden Vertical

The Oak Barrel in Sydney puts on some of the most engaging and interesting tastings in Sydney at present, and a Mourvedre tasting last week was no exception. The tasting included a vertical of Hewitson’s Old Garden Mourvedre from the Barossa Valley, as well as two French examples from Bandol, and two Spanish Monastrell. This seemed pretty well timed given my recent rant about the importance of our old vines, one example of which is the 1853 Old Garden vineyard from which the Hewitson Old Garden Mourvedre is sourced.

The more I drink Mourvedre (or Mataro or Monastrell depending on your language or preference), the more I want it to be a part of my cellar. The best examples are well structured, tannic wines that balance dark fruits with varying degrees of spice, a gamey meatiness, earth, and leather. It’s a style and flavour profile that really appeals to me.

The wines tasted on the night were -

Bandol, France

2001 Domaine Tempier Cuvee Cabassaou – $185 - One of the most famous wineries from Bandol in the South of France, and by reputation one of the world's great producers of Mourvedre. Happily the wine lived up to the reputation being my wine of the night, which was a reflection of its uniqueness, as much as its undoubted quality. In my notes I’ve got “liquefied roast wild boar”. It’s as gamey a wine as I’ve had, but in an entirely positive way. It’s a relatively medium-bodied and elegant example of Mourvedre and is beautifully structured. Lovely tannins are still prominent at 10 years of age, and it has the balance to age for a number of years. This would go brilliantly with some roast game meat. Loved it.

2004 Domaine du Gros Nore Red – $85 - Not quite as impressive as the Tempier but still very good and in fact only half the price. An interesting bouquet of dark fruits, polished leather, and an appealing note of orange peel. Plush fruit on the palate is balanced by leather flavours and grippy tannins. Very enjoyable.

Spanish Monastrell

2002 Primitivo Quiles Raspay Tinto Brut Alicante – $55 - Something had gone wrong with this wine as it came across like a poor example of a Banyul or some other savoury type of fortified.

2004 Bodega Enrique Mendoze Estrecho – $80 - Really enjoyed this. Savoury, complex bouquet of earth, tar, some lovely liquorice, and a touch of barnyard funk. There’s excellent length and grip on the palate with some beautiful varietal spice. Probably the best Monastrell I have tried.

Hewitson Old Garden Mourvedre Vertical

1998 – Dean Hewitson’s first attempt with this wine is looking great at 13 years of age. It has a lovely nose, with a nice hint of barnyard along with dark fruits, earth and a hint of game. The palate is balanced and supple with lovely fruit still evident, tasty spice, and a hint of that barnyard again. Could drink a lot of this, but unfortunately apparently not even Hewitson have stocks of this wine left.

2002 – $70 - There is a lovely intensity of fruit and savoury flavours here. It’s well structured with good length, and is still nice and tannic at 9 years of age. Plenty of time in front of it.

2003 – $60 - The least impressive of the Old Garden’s on the night, and a reflection of a tough vintage as such. Still a good wine, and typical of the vineyard, but suffered when compared to its more impressive brethren.

2004 – $60 - There is an interesting and appealing floral note on the nose, along with dark fruits and just a hint of oak that has all but been subsumed by the wine. The palate is superb, showing balance and length in its beautiful fruit, spice, and liquorice. Plenty of years in front of it.

2005 – $65 - My favourite Old Garden on the night, and my 2nd favourite overall after the Tempier. It had an expressive nose, with a lovely balance between oak and fruit on the one hand and savoury aromas of earth and leather on the other. There’s a great intensity and drive on the palate that leads on to the long, long finish. Beautifully structured and should do another 10 years in a canter.

2006 – $68 - This looked a touch subdued on the night but is of undoubted quality. Relatively medium-bodied, there’s an elegance and balance to this wine that is impressive. Once again there is lovely spice and a nice touch of meatiness. This needs to be put in a cool cellar for a number of years.

2008 – $80 - The flashiest of all the wines on the night with some sexytime caramel oak on the nose. Not surprisingly it had plenty of admirers at the tasting. Lush, primary fruit and oak dominate the palate at this stage, along with the trademark spice. Just a hint of the savoury flavours that will come with age. Should be good with time and a very good result considering how tough the vintage was in the Barossa.

One thing that I have read in plenty of reviews about the Hewitson Old Garden Mourvedre, is that obvious oak is evident in its youth. What is apparent from doing a vertical like this is that while the oak is indeed flashy when young, it does integrates with time, such that by the time you get to 8-10 years of age there is no discernable oak, and that oak input has instead become an integrated part of the complex bouquet and palate. The vertical was also an excellent exposition of the effects of vintage on a single vineyard wine. While there is a commonality with all the Old Gardens, each wine has it own distinct personality courtesy of each specific growing season.

I think the Hewitson Old Garden Mourvedre has a stature and significance such that it doesn't need to be compared to other examples of this varietal, and yet we can't help but do this type of comparison, as much because it as an enjoyable exercise during which one learns a lot. So in comparing the Hewitson Old Garden with the Spanish and French examples, the best of the Old Gardens compare very well. Stylistically, the Old Garden has much in common with wines like the Gros Nore and Estrecho, in being structured, tannic Mourvedres that have a nice balance between fruit and savoury flavours. Age is kind to these top examples of the variety, regardless of the country of origin, with complex spice, game, earth, and leather coming to fore, and providing a real sense of enjoyment and difference. The outlier in one sense was the Domaine Tempier, which pushed the boundaries of game meatiness in a wine, but did so beautifully, and as such was the standout on the night.

With all the social media driven wine campaigns about at the moment, I wonder if there is room for a “Mourvedre May” or “Mataro May”? With the onset of colder weather, when meals like roast venison come into their own, it might be just the trick . . .



King Julian said...

How about Mourve-day?

In defence of the Primitivo Quiles i thought it had really opened up the next day. It was soft and smooth with rich tar fruit and a distinct earthy portiness. I thought it was very old school but delicious.

Red said...

Interesting. On the night it really didn't show up well against the other wines, but it's amazing what a day or two can do for a wine.

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