Australia's McLaren Vale, south of Adelaide, enjoys a Mediterranean climate thanks to proximity to the ocean, with warm, dry summers and most of its precipitation concentrated in the winter months. With irrigation necessary but water scarce, the best wines come from low-yielding old vines with deep roots. McLaren Vale is best known for its fleshy, full-flavored Shirazes and Cabernets, but Grenache is on the upswing and there is also a good bit of mostly low-acid Chardonnay.
Two keys to Australian wine quality are the continent's mostly hot and dry climate and its great number of technically proficient winemakers. Australia's wine regions are spread across the southern rim of the country, generally close to the sea, from the Hunter Valley, just above Sydney on the east coast, across to the Margaret River, south of Perth on the west coast-a distance of roughly 2,000 miles. (The generic appellation South Eastern Australia is used to describe blended wines from virtually anywhere but Western Australia.) Making blanket statements about Australia's weather in a given growing season would be almost like saying that Southern California and North Carolina experienced the same climatic conditions.
Even within fairly small areas conditions can vary dramatically according to ocean influence, altitude and type of soil. The often scorching hot Barossa Valley in South Australia, for example, can produce red Australian wines that approach vintage port in their dried-fruit flavors and alcoholic heft. But parts of the Clare Valley, less than 50 miles away, are significantly cooler. At the same time, though, Barossa benefits from a high percentage of old vines with deep root systems, which are more likely to be able to get water than younger vines in other regions, which rely heavily on irrigation and scarce water resources.
Powerful earthy and savory reds, with some serious tannins
Stews, roasts, grilled meats
A sparsely planted variety found predominantly in the southern Rhone, Provence, and elsewhere near the Mediterranean coast, Mourvedre is best known for its place in powerful game and earth-scented reds. One is mostly likely to encounter the grape in wines from the southern Rhone. Here, Mourvedre takes its place blended with Grenache and Syrah, notably in the wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
If you want to discover what the grape offers on its own, head to the appellation of Bandol, in Provence. Provence may be best known for the widespread production of rose wines, but for serious wines in the region, Bandol is the first (and for many, the only) stop. Here, wines are dominated by Mourvedre, and in some examples, this grape is the sole variety. Because of the high percentage of Mourvedre, wines from Bandol can be fiercely tannic upon release, and often demand at least six to eight years of cellaring. After this time, this wines will gain nuance and grace, complementing their underlying savory and musky characteristics. Here, we like wines made by Domaine Tempier and Chateau Pradeaux.
In Spain, Mourvedre is known as Monastrell or Mataro, and it is planted heavily on the southeastern Mediterranean coast, including the appellations of Jumila and Yecla. Good examples come from Bodegas Castano and Bodegas El Nido.
The grape is sometimes found in very warm microclimates of the New World, especially in parts of California and Australia. Indeed, winemakers in Australia have increasingly been following the lead of their counterparts in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, incorporating Mourvedre into the increasingly prevalent GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) wines. Many of these wines are quite affordable.
As Mourvedre-based wines are generally earthy and rustic, they pair well with comparably rustic fare like meat-based stews and roasts.