Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

July Wine Club: Monastrell

By Jessica Yadegaran
Monday, July 23rd, 2007 at 1:34 pm in Uncategorized.

We had wine club this weekend at Megan’s darling cottage in Alameda. A welcome breeze broke the afternoon humidity as we sat on a bench under a luscious olallieberry tree in her pebble-studded backyard. What better way to whet the palate than a chilled glass of Godello, a citrusy and refreshing white wine from Valdeorras in the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia.

On the table this month: Monastrell, Spain’s answer to Mourvedre, a thick-skinned black grape and a tannic powerhouse that grows in the hot climate of central Spain, namely Jumilla and Yecla. With it’s glinty garnet color, I found Spain’s version slightly lighter and more rustic, with plenty of earth and leather in the glass. Yes, I’ll say it: barn yard.

My gut and what limited exposure I’d had to Monastrell told me this was a blending wine, best to power up Grenache and Tempranillo or make a more nuanced steak wine out of Cabernet or Syrah. Our blind tasting proved that point: the unanimous winner was in fact the only blend on the table. It wasn’t exactly a fair tasting. Would you put a bottle of straight Carignan in a blind tasting with a bunch of blends? Probably not.

But I did find plenty of single varietal versions of Monastrell that weren’t the heavy hitters I was expecting but rather medium-bodied and thus perfect with a smoky paella. Quite the food wines, I found. And they were all under $15. Who knew. Read on for the results:

The wines:

The winner: 2004 Finca Luzon from Jumilla. (50% Monastrell, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Tempranillo). Tons of earth and blackberries with a finish that went on and on.

Second place: 2005 Vinos Sin-Ley M5 (as in to the fifth power) from Yecla. Dark rubies swirling in cigar and tobacco.
Third place: Bellum 2004 Providencia from Yecla. A boderline light-bodied wine with smooth flavor and a silky finish.
Fourth place: 2004 Hecula Castano. This is the one I brought. I rated it second (after the blend) and so did Brian, who sat next to me. I didn’t find it as visually pleasing as the other wines (a tad cloudy perhaps a little decanting would’ve help), but the flavor and finish — earth plus smoked, peppery meats — were insanely delightful. It was a recommendation from Kevin Hogan at The Spanish Table in Berkeley. A home cook and the wine buyer-manager, he’s a wealth of information and an expert on all things Iberian. If you don’t subscribe to his e-newsletter, you must.
Fifth place: 2005 Casa Castillo from Jumilla. Too hot. Prune flavors, almost cooked. The finish did nothing for me.

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