The triumvirate of Rhone reds -- syrah, grenache and mourvedre -- often coexist in blends. That's certainly been the case in Paso Robles. But the latter two are increasingly stepping out on their own.
Grenache -- called garnacha in Spain -- is one of the most widely planted red grapes in the world. It requires a warm climate and produces wines that are juicy and vibrant and can be fairly high in alcohol. Mourvedre -- known in Spain as monastrell and sometimes called mataro in California and Australia -- also requires heat to ripen and produces a wine that can taste sort of wild and meaty.
It's difficult to get a handle on acreage for these grapes in Paso Robles. The state reports acreage by county. San Luis Obispo County has 374 acres of grenache, but a lot of that is grown outside Paso Robles, in the southern part of the county. The county has 217 acres of mourvedre -- more than any other county -- and most of that is probably in Paso Robles.
Tablas Creek Vineyard has a strong mourvedre focus. It's the main grape in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape blend of Château de Beaucastel, whose owners are partners in Tablas Creek. Jason Haas, the winery's general manager, says without hesitation, "I really believe that Paso is one of the greatest spots in the world to grow mourvedre." Cool nights mean that "you keep a freshness in mourvedre in Paso that's hard to achieve in Europe."
Because mourvedre makes such a complete wine, Tablas Creek produces a single-variety mourvedre every year. By contrast, the winery makes a varietal grenache every two or three years. Still, Haas also thinks grenache "has huge potential in California."
Jeff Pipes, owner and winemaker at Pipestone Vineyards, agrees about both grapes. "Both of them grow very well," he says, but "grenache grows like gangbusters." He also likes that both retain their varietal character with careful farming.
"They taste like what they're supposed to taste like," Pipes says.
Both wineries produce excellent mourvedres. The 2011 Pipestone Mourvedre ($38) is quite peppery, with lively black fruit, some spicy notes and medium tannins, while the 2011 Tablas Creek Mourvedre ($40) displays spicy, dark berry flavors and a hint of roasted meat.
The 2011 Pipestone Grenache ($32) offers juicy raspberry and strawberry with hints of white pepper and wild thyme, along with medium weight and tannins. Pipes acknowledges that grenache can get overly alcoholic, but he says this can be mitigated by balancing the crop and canopy.
I tasted a number of grenaches and mourvedres from Paso Robles, though the lineup was by no means comprehensive. Some recommended grenaches are the 2010 Cypher ($50), 2011 Anglim ($34), 2011 Austin Hope ($42) and the 2012 Broken Earth ($24), which is a good buy.
One of the best Paso Robles mourvedres I've tasted is the 2010 Bodegas Paso Robles Monastrell ($49), with its smoky black fruit, lavender and roasted meat. Also good are the full-bodied 2011 Adelaida Mourvedre ($32) and the slightly earthy 2012 Cass Mourvedre ($26).
Contact Laurie Daniel at email@example.com.