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Originally published Saturday, August 6, 2011 at 7:03 PM

Wine Adviser

Mourvèdre: The next big thing in wine

Mourvèdre is new to Washington, but is already attracting the attention of some of this state's most creative winemakers.

Special to the Seattle Times

Pick of the Week

La Aldea 2009 Monastrell; $8

FROM CASA VENTURA Imports, this hearty red is produced in Jumilla. Don't look for elegance here, but its potent mix of berry, plum and prune will go down well with some caveman protein hot off the grill. (Distributed by Vehrs)

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I'M ALWAYS on the lookout for the next big thing in the wine world. It might be something that magically captures the fancy of consumers — such as Prosecco and Moscato d'Asti have this summer — or a trend that suddenly crops up among winemakers.

Hold your breath no longer, here it is:

Mourvèdre.

Now, you may not recognize this rather obscure grape. Or you may know it as mataro or monastrell, its Spanish equivalents. In Spain it grows prolifically, and is the mainstay of inexpensive, deeply flavored reds from Jumilla, Alicante and Yecla in particular. And if you have ever sipped on a dry rosé from Bandol, or a rich, red southern Rhône blend, or perhaps a Chateauneuf du Pape, you have encountered the French version of the grape as part of a blend.

New World wineries planted it first as part of an old-fashioned "field blend" — an Old World technique that mixed up to a dozen grape varieties in a single vineyard. More recently, some have taken the lead in producing varietal bottlings of mourvèdre. In California, Tablas Creek, whose owners are partnered with Beaucastel in France, began making a small amount of varietal mourvèdre in 2003. It is also the principal component in their excellent Esprit de Beaucastel.

Mourvèdre is new to Washington, but is already attracting the attention of some of this state's most creative winemakers. Although bottlings of pure mourvèdre are few and far between, they offer the taster the best opportunity to understand what this grape brings to the table as a blending component, most often with grenache and syrah.

Tannic and dark, with brambly boysenberry fruit enhanced by spicy aromas of dried herbs and a touch of the southern Rhône gaminess that many people find attractive — this is not a shy grape in any way.

Mike Sauer put in some experimental vines at Red Willow almost 30 years ago. More recent plantings have gone in at Alder Ridge, Ciel du Cheval, Coyote Canyon, Destiny Ridge, Elephant Mountain, Northridge and elsewhere.

You will have to contact wineries directly (visit their tasting rooms or websites) and/or join their wine clubs to find most of the wines I list. And whether or not this grape will become an important component of the Washington wine success story depends not only upon quality and interest but quantity. Very little mourvèdre is in the ground at the moment.

Here are the best varietally labeled Washington bottles I've had in the past few vintages. Obviously, these are not everyday wines, but worth the tab if you want to explore something new and quite exciting.

Syncline 2009 Heart of the Hill Mourvèdre ($30)

Rasa 2009 Vox Populi Mourvèdre ($45)

Mark Ryan 2008 Crazy Mary Mourvèdre ($45)

Hollywood Hill 2008 Mourvèdre ($34)

McCrea Cellars 2007 Mourvèdre ($28)

Bunnell Family 2007 Northridge Vineyard Mourvèdre ($38)

Robert Ramsay 2007 McKinley Springs Mourvèdre ($42)

The two best GSM (grenache/syrah/mourvèdre) blends so far this year came from Maison Bleue and Gramercy Cellars.

Maison Bleue's 2009 Upland Vineyard Gravière G.S.M. ($40), from Snipes Mountain grapes, is half syrah and one quarter each grenache and mourvèdre. Pure berries, cassis, rock, earth, licorice and a hint of baking spices tumble around this gorgeous bottle of wine.

From Gramercy Cellars, look for the 2009 The Third Man Red ($45). Half grenache, and roughly one quarter each syrah and mourvèdre. Pungent and spicy, with supple and luxurious raspberry and black fruits, baking spices and sweet barrel flavors. This is a big, richly flavored wine with tobacco and clove highlights, and a burst of alcoholic heat in the finish.

The revised second edition of Paul Gregutt's "Washington Wines & Wineries" is now in print. His blog is www.paulgregutt.com. Email: paulgwine@me.com.

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