A closer look at Monastrell

Monday, 30. November 2015 - 15:30

The Monastrell grape has been grown in the Spanish Mediterranean since the twelfth century. Despite being older than Tempranillo or Garnacha it is not as popular among winemakers.

An international conference about this variety was held in Alicante, on Spain’s Mediterranean coast, to change perceptions and celebrate the grape. The location was appropriate given that Alicante, along with the Protected Designations of Origin of Almansa, Jumilla and Yecla have the most hectares of Monastrell in Spain.

Monastrell is Spain’s fourth most planted variety. In 2014 the country had 45,213 ha. This was a massive 44% lower than 14 years earlier. The variety lost favour because it is difficult to grow, needing lots of sunshine and water. The November 12 conference heard that with climate change the time was right for a Monastrell revival.

Between 2000 and 2014 plantings of Tempranillo, the most-popular grape, jumped 42% to 205,187 ha. Bobal is the second most planted, with 64,293 ha, though down 35% since 2000. Garnacha with 62,841 ha was also down 38%.

Monastrell probably evolved around the Spanish Mediterranean city of Murviedro near Valencia. This explains the name the French gave the grape – Mouvedre comes from Mourvèdre in the Catalan dialect – when they introduced it in the early sixteenth century.

In Australia the grape is called Mataro. That name is believed to have come from the Spanish town of Mataro, near Barcelona.

Dave Brookes, a wine writer from Australia, told the conference that Monastrell has 95 synonyms in his country, such as Balzac. Australia has the oldest Mataro vines in the world. Dean Hewitson makes The Old garden Mataro from vines planted in 1853 in the Barossa Valley of South Australia.

Brookes believes Monastrell has a bright future because of global warming. “In countries where temperatures are rising, Monastrell is the ideal grape. It loves the heat, whereas Syrah shuts down when the temperatures get too high.”

About 200 wineries in Australia grow Mataro and it is popular in GSM (Grenache / Syrah / Mataro) blends. Australia had 750 ha in 2015, down from about 1,000 hectares two decades ago. The bulk of those (603 ha) are in South Australia.

Plantings of Mouvedre in France have increased significantly in the past half century. In 1958 France had 620 ha of the grape and by 2014 the figure had soared to 9,220 ha.

Francisco Calvo, a Spanish winemaker based in California, said Monastrell arrived in that state in the 1860s. American has only about 400 ha but it was becoming popular with discerning winemakers. Fred Cline was a pioneer who makes superb wines with the grape, he said.

Dr Stephen Quinn