One of the more unusual reds I’ve enjoyed form California recently is from a grape you’re not going to find all over stores shelves or restaurant wine lists. Although so-called Rhone varieties, particularly syrah and to a lesser extent grenache, are common in California now, only a handful of wineries offer mourvedre as a standalone bottling. So I’ve got to hand it to Wente Vineyards, the venerable Livermore Valley winery east of San Francisco, for even bothering with mourvedre. True, just 201 cases of the 2007 Small Lot Mourvedre were produced, but if you can get hold of a bottle (most likely from the winery since the “Small Lot” line has limited distribution), you’ll experience a singular California wine.
Made with five percent syrah and in a fruit-forward style that is unmistakably Californian, the wine has a grapey blackberry core that is punctuated by an array of herbs and spices and an earthy quality that is a signature of mourvedre. It received 10 months of aging in neutral oak, which keeps the wood influence restrained. At the same time, it is softly tannic, which makes the wine accessible now but which also means that one should choose food pairings wisely. I would suggest grilled pork or chicken and vegetable pasta dishes. It was rather overpowered, I thought, by some pan-seared steaks we had the other night. In any event, this $35 wine is impressive and represents California with distinction and originality. Received as a press sample.