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Old World vs. Gold World, Mourvèdre Style

Updated: Jun 27, 2023

It is sometimes hard to believe two different wines can be made from the same variety of grape. This is often the case with Old World and New World Mourvèdre. I thought this side-by-side tasting of Terrebrune's 2020 Terre d'Ombre from Bandol and the 2019 Mourvèdre from the old vines of Sierra Vista might be the exception that proves the rule. But, no, it was the rule that proves the rule.

Red wines from Bandol in the South of France are inky, thick, tannic blockbusters that usually require either age or a tongue scraper. Mourvèdre must make up at least 50 percent of the wine and is usually at least 70 or 80 percent. The warm, coastal climate, the limestone soils, and ancient vines all combine to make Bandol the planet's most perfect incubator for powerfully intense Mourvèdre.

However, take Mourvèdre out of Bandol and an entirely different grape emerges. The grape sheds its heavy, gothic coat and dons some party clothes. Though lighter and more aromatically frilly, the New World Mourvèdre remains complex and full of character. The fruit tends to be more red on the spectrum and there are often some interesting herbal and meaty qualities. Both the Bandolian and the New World versions are wonderful food wines, but the foods that you select to pair with them are quite different. Mourvèdre from the Sierra Foothills are perfect examples of this New World style.

Doing a blind side-by-side tasting of a traditional Bandol and a traditional Foothills Mourvèdre wouldn't be very challenging or revealing due to their respective distinctivenesses. But, I thought, perhaps this Terre d'Ombre, which is made from grapes of very young vines and purported to be vinified in a lighter style could be an interesting comparison to this Sierra Vista version from grapes of own-rooted, 50-year-old vines grown at elevation and handled deftly by winemaker Ryan Wright. The new owner of Sierra Vista, Jim Czachorowki, who is instilling fresh breath into this historic property assured me confidently that this is the best Mourvèdre in the Foothills (a very ambitious claim!).

Alas, two whiffs into the blind tasting and it was clear which wine was which. Yes, they were closer to each other than their traditional versions would have been, but closer in the way the moon is closer to the earth during some parts of its orbit than others. So, I quickly dispensed with the blinding and just enjoyed the wines themselves, and enjoy I did.

The Terrebrune wine was indeed more approachable than a traditional Bandol but was still highly structured and nicely balanced. This wine might not age quite like a traditional Bandol, but it easily has a couple of decades in it. As the night wore on, the wine started to open a little but stayed mostly reticent and powerful. This is a bad ass wine for the price point.

The Sierra Vista offers one of the prettiest noses of any wine I've had of late. There wasn't as much meat and funk as one might expect, just beautiful aromas of ripe, fresh red fruit, florals, and a delightful mintiness. There isn't a lot of structure here on the palate, but the flavors are nonetheless supported and the finish is remarkably long. For the first few sips, I wondered to myself about what this wine could be with a little more structural backbone, but by the end of the first glass, I abandoned that thought and thoroughly enjoyed the quaffability (which bordered on guzzleability).

That beautiful nose alone is enough to support Jim's lofty claims. Who am I to say he's wrong?


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