Mourvèdre and Venison: The Perfect Match for Deer Season

Davies Wakefield

davies wakefield | wine uncorked | oct. 2016

As I'm writing, the weather is hot and the humidity is going to be in the 70s today, but the signs of fall are all around our farm. The mournful late summer song of the annual cicada drones in the woods behind the house. The intoxicating smell of propolis from our beehives fills the yard with its balsam perfume. A swarm of ants rises up into the warm air where migrating swallows and purple martins are snapping them up with an audible click. The newly hatched monarch butterflies are feeding on our Joe-Pye weed in preparation for their epic journey to the Oyamel Forest in the Sierra Madre Mountains in southwestern Mexico. Out back in the swamp behind our house, I can hear our neighbors repairing their deer stands and cutting brush that has grown into their line of fire. Deer season will be here before we know it and there is one wine that I prefer with wild game, over all others.

Mourvèdre is the perfect match for venison steaks cooked rare. This is an interesting grape that is worth exploring. Author's note: Even more interesting was the quest I went on to find these wines!

Mourvèdre is thought to have originated in Phoenicia (modern day Lebanon). It was originally brought to Spain in 500 B.C. to the Catalan region where Barcelona is located. This area abuts the southern border of France. I spent a summer in Perpignan France right across the border from Catalonia learning how to build scrap-grappling equipment. This area at the border is rocky and mountainous but the grape, never the less, was brought into southern France as well, where, by the 16th century was firmly established. In Spain, the grape is referred to as either Monastrell or Motarò. If you are trying to find this particular wine use those names when looking in the Spanish section of your local wine shop. The Mourvèdre grape arrived in California in the 1860s and is known there as Mataro. Some of those plantings are still alive today 150+ years later and can be found in some of the red blends of Ridge and Ravenswood Vineyards. Other wineries that feature Mourvèdre as a varietal rather than in a blend are Bonny Doon, Cline Cellars and Tablas Creek. During the 1860s, Mourvèdre was introduced in Australia. Henschke, Barossa Valley Penfolds and Tahblik Vineyards are all wineries known for their old vine Mourvèdre and Shiraz. Use this information to locate these wines because they don't often appear on local wine store shelves. They are worth seeking out for the perfect match they provide to a good venison steak or roast.

Mourvèdre is an interesting grape. It flowers late in the spring and matures very late in the fall, so it isn't affected by spring frosts; that is its greatest advantage. Mourvèdre's other plant characteristics make it difficult to grow because it requires very specific conditions, as wine expert Oz Clarke succinctly put it, “Mourvèdre requires it face in hot sun and its feet in water." To the layman this means that Mourvèdre grows well on south facing slopes in the Northern Hemisphere in shallow clay soils that retain water to keep its “feet “ wet.

Ironically, while its “feet" are wet, the vines prefer a steady windy environment because the grape clusters are very tight and are susceptible to powdery mildew, wind keeps the grape clusters dry. At harvest, the window for perfect ripeness is a very tiny. Harvest early and the grower risks reductive notes of hydrogen sulfide (rotten eggs) and farmyard flavors (think about that pig farm you may have passed one time). Miss the ripening window and the grapes' acidity rapidly declines and the clusters start desiccating, producing prune flavors. If the grower pays attention to this variety the wine produces a wine with meaty, wild game and forest flavors with soft red wine texture; my perfect match for deer, wild boar, elk and even bison.

Surprisingly none of our local wine stores carried wines with predominately Mourvèdre, so after a fruitless search of Appleton and Green Bay, I finally found all these wines in Milwaukee at The Waterford Wine Company. I hope that some of the local stores carry these wines in the future because they are amazing.

The first wine is from the iconic Bandol producer Domaine Tempier and the legendary Peyraud Family. The families' devotion to wine and the food of Provence inspired Alice Waters to start up her famous Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse. Robert Parker, the infamous wine critic, proclaimed that he had experienced the most intense drunken orgy at Domaine Tempier when Lulu and Lucien Peyraud greeted him and Kermit Lynch at the door with a well-chilled bottle of Tempier rosè. As he recalls “several bottles were consumed before we even entered their house" Richard Olney, the famed food writer who lived near the Peyraud's and wrote of life, food and wine in Provence, wrote a cookbook that celebrated Lulu Peyraud recipes. The vineyard is set on a terraced hillside amphitheater, framed by Maritime Pines overlooking the port of Bandol. During the 18th century, the wines were celebrated for their ability to age and their finesse. They were served at the table of Louis XV. A sea voyage was thought to improve their age and many were shipped to the Antilles (Saint Maarten, Guadeloupe) and back. Before the port of Bandol was deepened, the kegs of wine were floated out to the ships anchored out in the bay. The 2013 Bandol Rouge $63 indicates 11-14 percent alcohol which means that they were more concerned about balance than alcohol level. The wine is composed of 75 percent Mourvèdre, 14 percent Grenache, 9 percent Cinsault and 2 percent Carignan. The aroma is apricot blossom, cherries, ripe plums and wild herbs, while licorice, truffles and seared meat dominate the taste. This is a very special wine that can be drunk now or left to age for a special occasion.

Another Bandol producer, Chateau Salettes, is located just to the west of the town of Bandol in the town of La Cadière d'Azur between Toulon and Marseille on a gentle slope overlooking the Golfe de Saint- Cyr-les-Lecques. The 2013 Chateau Salettes Bandol 2013 $30 and 13.5 percent alcohol is 80 percent Mourvèdre, 15 percent Grenache and 5 percent Carignan. The soil clay over calcareous rocks is perfectly suited to keep the roots wet and the position on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea keeps the drying breezes over the grapes' tight bunches. The Chateau and winery operations are overseen by Jean Pierre Boyer the 17th generation of the family that has continuously produced this wine. The grapes are harvested by hand (Bandol bans the use of mechanical harvesters). The mineral bloom and red fruit aromas give way to tastes of leather and undergrowth. Think of a walk in the woods after a late summer rain. We tasted this wine with a Provencal pasta dish of roasted eggplant, spicy Anaheim peppers and tomato sauce. The wine stood up to the concentrated earthy flavors of the eggplant.

I did find an example of the Spanish version, Monastrell from Bodegas Juan Gil in the Jumilla region. Jumilla is located on the southeast corner of Spain between Valencia and Seville. The Honoro Vera $10, 15 percent alcohol is 100 percent Mourvèdre and is a powerful wine reflecting the increased warmth of southern Spain. The vineyard is planted on calcareous soils as well without irrigation in a very dry region that gets less than 15 inches of rain a year. This is a big rich wine from very low yielding vines, which concentrates the flavors of the grape. The vineyards are all organic and in this dry area of Spain there probably aren't a lot of weeds or plant pests. The bargain of all the wines tasted here; it is for big appetites and people who like strong wines with their food. This would match up well with barbecue ribs and pulled pork very nicely.

The last wine is from California and the Dirty & Rowdy Family Winery. These two families, Hardy and Kate (Dirty) and Matt and Amy (Rowdy) came together as they say on their website to produce “honest wines that we want to drink." This is a young winery with lots of attitude. Only time will tell whether they can become iconic producers, but right now they are spot on with their 2014 Mourvèdre $40, 12.7 percent alcohol. The wine is 96 percent Mourvèdre and 4 percent Petite Sirah from five different California AVA's including El Dorado, Amador County and Monterey. This wine is produced using native fermentation (yeast that naturally floats around in the air) with zero winemaking additions. It is whole cluster fermented and bottled unfiltered and unfined with minimal effective sulfites so it may throw off some sediment. The Sasquatch on the label speaks to the wild mysterious nature of this wine. We enjoyed the Dirty and Rowdy Mourvèdre with steak sandwiches topped with pickled hot peppers and sautéed onions. This wine was tart and reminded me of young Beaujolais. This is not a wild game wine, but try it with a bacon cheeseburger.

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