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Tasting Note

Posted October 18, 2012 Well-focused mint and wild berry fruit is supple and generous, with a spicy, road-tar edge. Well-balanced, intense yet graceful.

And the answer is...


There are some key clues in the tasting note that help to narrow down the field. Descriptors such as supple and graceful suggest the wine doesn’t pack a lot of tannins. That quickly eliminates Petite Sirah, which is known for its stout flavors and generally powerful tannic structure.

Cabernet Sauvignon is often supple and intense, and frequently there is an herbal element that some tasters might describe as mint, but it typically has perceptible tannins. Also, Cabernet is more likely to exhibit flavors of black cherry and black currant than wild berry, which is more common to Zinfandel. Pinot Noir also can be eliminated because its fruit is generally too elegant to produce full-bodied flavors such as tar.

That leaves Merlot and Mourvèdre. Merlot is often supple and generous and exhibits aromas of herb and occasionally mint, but it rarely takes on tar or abundant spice. Only Mourvèdre remains, which is known for its spice and tar elements and hints of mint, and grown in certain regions it can have a supple, wild berry quality akin to Zinfandel.

This is a Mourvèdre.


We can quickly disregard several countries. Germany and New Zealand have never been known for growing Mourvèdre, although there may be a few vines here and there. In Italy, Mourvèdre is known as Mataro and it is grown only sparingly in the modern era.

That leaves France and California. In France, Mourvèdre is used most notably in Bandol, where the wines must include at least 50 percent of the grape in the blend. Bandols are prized for their dark black fruit, robust body and notes of leather, none of which are apparent in this tasting note. That leaves California.

This Mourvèdre is from California.


We can eliminate the two oldest age brackets because the tasting note, which includes comments about intense and generous flavors, suggests a youthful wine. Also, as Mourvèdre ages it takes on more earthy aromas such as leather and cedar, making it more appealing to people that like to cellar the wine before opening, as many lovers of Bandol do. And although it might fall into the three- to five-year range, the mention of wild berry suggests a vibrant and youthful wine.

This Mourvèdre is from the 2010 vintage, making it two years old.


We can immediately eliminate three appellations from our list, since they are not located in California: Marlborough, Mosel and Piedmont. That leaves Contra Costa County, Russian River Valley and Santa Lucia Highlands.

Russian River Valley is located in the foggy, tree-covered western Sonoma County, where daytime summer temperatures range from warm to chilly. Pinot Noir thrives and Zinfandel and Syrah have sizeable plantings, although those two grapes struggle to achieve ripeness in cool years; Mourvèdre is rarely grown here.

Santa Lucia Highlands is located in Monterey County and overlooks Salinas Valley, where the summer temperatures are toasty, but in the highlands—where vineyards are planted as high as 1,200 feet and mostly above the fog line—it rarely breaks 90° F. That means there’s plenty of sun for Mourvèdre but not enough heat.

Contra Costa County is located east of San Francisco Bay and most of the vineyards there are planted near the California delta. Summer days get toasty warm but evenings typically turn cool on the delta, and the soil is deep and unusually sandy. It’s an ideal location for Mourvèdre.

This Mourvèdre is from Contra Costa County.


It’s the Cline Mourvèdre Contra Costa County Ancient Vines 2010, which was rated 88 points and retails for $16. Look for more reviews of California’s Rhône varietals in upcoming issues, leading to James Laube’s annual tasting report in the March 31, 2013, issue of Wine Spectator.

—Tim Fish, associate editor

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