The Tasting Panel magazine

January 2016

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28  /  the tasting panel  /  january-february 2016 M ourvèdre, as chronicled before in this column, might be the world's most transparent grape. It can be meaty, dense and exhibit food versatility and age potential far beyond expectations (as in France's red Bandols and early California classics by the likes of Bonny Doon, Edmunds St. John and Neyers). Yet pure Mourvèdre can also be lighter, looser, pungently earthy or perfumed (as in many of Spain's Monastrells, or Lodi grown bottlings by Bokisch Vineyards). Site trumps "varietal character" when it comes to this Mediterranean variety. Hardy Wallace—co-owner/winemaker of the Sonoma-based Dirty & Rowdy Family Winery—has come around to the same conclusion over the past five years. The first time, accidentally: In 2010, when planning to make his first- ever wines from Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and Muscat, all of his anticipated grape sources got "fried" in an August heat wave. Left with nothing to work with, a winemaker/friend suggested some Mourvèdre going unclaimed in a warm pocket of Santa Barbara. "I was by no means a Bandol geek," admits Wallace. "I enjoyed it, but was not fanatical about the grape. I decided to try it out, while giving it my own stamp—partial carbonic from 100% whole cluster, foot treading, native yeast, neutral wood—to get the light, fresh, savory style of wine we like to drink. Our first Mourvèdre came from Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard. It turned out to be every bit as transparent as we hoped, not unlike the terroir and soil profile Angela Osborne (of Tribute to Grace) was getting from Grenache from the same vineyard. Funny, at the time the talk was all about 'cold climate' grape growing. There's nothing 'cold climate' about Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard, yet we were getting the lean, beautifully balanced taste associated with that type of winemaking." As a result, Wallace found his shtick. He now produces a total of nine different Mourvèdres, seven of them single vineyard–designated. The intriguing part is that they are all produced in the same minimalist fashion: Beyond the whole cluster (no destemming), foot treading and native yeast fermentation in open-tops, there is no sulfuring, nutrients, acidification, saignée, filtering or fining, and use of four- to ten-year-old barrels (traditional and 600-liter Rhône-style demi-muids). Grapes are rarely picked above 23° Brix and alcohols average less than 12.5%— primarily, says Wallace, "because we pick on acid and pH, since we don't do 'corrections' in the winery." In a December 2015 tasting of four of his current releases, all wines shared a nuanced herbaceousness, leaning more towards a dried-twig scrubbi- ness rather than green leafiness. The differences were in the perfumes and structures, the most floral and delicate of the bottlings being the Dirty & Rowdy 2014 Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard Mourvèdre ($36 SRP). Says Wallace, "The alluvial clay/sandstone of this 3,200-foot site always gives us sweet, almost citrusy aromatics, and a lean, zesty, savory feel." At the opposite end of the scale, the Dirty & Rowdy 2014 Evangelho Vineyard Mourvèdre ($42 SRP) from 125-year-old Contra Costa vines comes closest to the deep, meaty, cassis-like opulence often associated with the grape. "We pick from vineyards 500 miles apart, from Mendocino to the Central Coast," says Wallace, "and nothing comes close to what you get from these ancient vines . . . grapes are planted in pure Delta sand, which gives you incredible concentration, ripeness, and fantastically low pH at no matter what Brix you pick." Two wines, both grown by Skinner Vineyards in El Dorado, furnished the most dramatic examples of the grape's transparency: a tightly fisted yet ban- tamweight Dirty & Rowdy 2014 Skinner White Oak Flats Mourvèdre ($39 SRP), redolent of peppery/cardamom/ star anise spices, dried berry stirred into ginger and herbs; and a darker, more sinewy, grippingly concentrated Dirty & Rowdy 2014 Skinner Stoney Creek Vineyard Mourvèdre ($39 SRP), radiating flowery, violet-like perfumes. "The two Skinner plantings are 25 miles apart," says Wallace. The White Oak Flats vines are grown in loamy, pulverized granite—ten-year-old vines that look like scrawny three-year-olds. Stoney Creek is higher up in Fairplay at 2,400-feet, where the decomposed granite is even more pervasive—the wine tastes more granitic, yet is still nimble at 12.2% alcohol. Do you prefer the taste of citrus, cassis, gingery spice or rocks? It's all Mourvèdre, in all its terroir-driven guises. DIRTY & ROWDY EXPOSES MOURVÈDRE'S MULTIPLE PERSONALITIES story and photos by Randy Caparoso Transparency and Terroir Dirty & Rowdy's vineyard-designated Mourvèdres are as unique as their individual terroirs. Master of Mourvèdre: Hardy Wallace of Dirty & Rowdy Family Winery.

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