Washington’s Mourvèdre a red wine worth exploring

Difficult to pronounce and still relatively obscure, mourvèdre is a red wine grape you will want to become acquainted with because it is a variety on the rise in Washington.

Though not as famous as syrah or grenache, mourvèdre plays an important role in France’s Rhône Valley as a blending grape. Rarely has it played the lead role, but adventurous winemakers now are diving in.

The grape seems to be pronounced a couple of different ways, but the leading contender is “moor-VAY-druh.” It is a full-bodied red that pairs well with grilled or braised meats, as well as dishes that include lentils or mushrooms.

Last year, Washington wineries crushed 800 tons of mourvèdre, putting it on the radar of consumers and winemakers alike.

Here are a few delicious examples worth exploring. They are made in small amounts, so ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.

Knight Hill Winery 2011 Mourvèdre, Wahluke Slope, $28: Owner Terry Harrison runs this rising star in Washington’s Rattlesnake Hills, not too far from Yakima. Prosser winemaker Anke Wildman brought in the grapes for this superb example of mourvèdre from StoneTree on the Wahluke Slope, which is owned and operated by her husband, Tedd Wildman. The resulting wine is magnificent, with aromas of cedar, vanilla, plum and black licorice, followed by stunning flavors of ripe plum, caramel, dark berries and well-integrated oak.

Bunnell Family Cellar 2008 Mourvèdre, Wahluke Slope, $36: Ron Bunnell learned his craft in California and came to Washington to take over the head winemaking job at Chateau Ste. Michelle. When he left to start his eponymous winery, he chose to focus on Rhône varieties, particularly syrah. He’s since branched out and is showing his abilities with all Rhône reds. This delicious mourvèdre opens with aromas of mocha, fresh plum, lavender and saddle leather, followed by flavors of clove, pomegranate and plums, all backed with bright acidity and modest tannins.

Daven Lore Winery 2011 Arthur’s Vineyard Mourvèdre, Yakima Valley, $35: This is the third vintage for this variety from a top Yakima Valley winery. The grapes come from Art den Hoed’s vineyard, and this wine includes just a touch of grenache, syrah and durif — aka petite sirah. It opens with aromas of Graham cracker, Bing cherry and plum, followed by ripe, balanced flavors of purple fruit and sweet yellow bell pepper.

Milbrandt Vineyards 2010 Vineyard Series Mourvèdre, Wahluke Slope, $28: Winemaker Josh Maloney has raised the bar for Washington wine since arriving here and now is showing off his prowess at Milbrandt, a winery near the town of Mattawa. This bottling uses all estate grapes from the warm Wahluke Slope and reveals aromas of pretty oak, spice and purple fruit, followed by rich, delicious flavors of boysenberry, horehound and black cherry. It is available only at the tasting room in Prosser.

Eleven Winery 2011 Sugarloaf Vineyard Mourvèdre, Yakima Valley, $35: Bainbridge Island winemaker Matt Albee uses grapes from Sugarloaf Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Mountains, one of the state’s fast-rising fruit sources farmed by Joe Hattrup. The resulting wine is loaded with aromas and flavors of black currant, black pepper, black truffle and dark chocolate.

Airfield Estates Winery 2012 Mourvèdre, Yakima Valley, $28: This longtime Yakima Valley vineyard has its winery in Prosser and a satellite tasting room in Woodinville. This delicious example of Mourvèdre opens with aromas of pie cherry, pomegranate, violet and lilac, followed by juicy flavors of plum and pomegranate. It’s all backed with lingering acidity and well-managed tannins.

Coyote Canyon Winery 2009 H/H Estates Robert Andrews Reserve Mourvèdre, Horse Heaven Hills, $38: Owner Mike Andrews honors his father, Robert — who also is a partner in the Coyote Canyon Vineyard — with this delicious mourvèdre. It presents aromas and flavors of brown sugar, black cherry, leather and ripe dark plum. It’s a beautifully balanced red wine.

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine. Check out their new weekly podcast at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.

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