The smoothness and (for a Mourvedre) the abundant fruit of the Cline Family Cellars, you will remember, is what we saw as the character of the California wine. As with so many New World wines that strive for a seamless balance, it can leave you with little to differentiate it from another wine. All slide down without a clear statement of their personality, at times. French wines are usually not driven by these same goals, so expect (even in the warmer climate of Provence) a difference. One can conclude that the French wine’s lack of smoothness and fruitiness to match the California wine is due to the inability to ripen the grapes as fully in France. But we shall see that in Provence, where ripeness is really not a problem (certainly not as it is in regions like Bordeaux), the winemaker is striving for a different goal: the unique character of the terroir.
In La Bastide Blanche from the Appellation Bandol Controlee 2012 (to be named as an appellation wine, it must contain a large proportion of Mourvedre), we will be introduced to both the appellation (terroir) and the grape variety. Given this southern climate, it comes in at 14.5% alcohol — only half a percent less than the Cline from California. Go ahead and choose a Mourvedre from the New World — US (the Cline, if you can get it) or Australia — and compare the two. I chose the Cline Ancient Vines Mourvedre 2014 at 15% alcohol because it would give us a good contrast and point out the difference in New World and Old World wines to begin our journey through France. Taste with me.
Bandol in Provence: We are met with a deep shade of ruby (maybe a little lighter than the Cline), vanilla, tar, black cherry, plum, cedar and perhaps a little burnt toast, with added mineral layers. This wine slides over the palate smooth and with a refreshing, pleasant acidity. The finish is long, with lingering mineral and wood notes mixed with a little fruit and no bitterness from the tannins. The tannins are soft in a slightly less warming alcohol than the Cline. It is truly varietal, as is the Cline, but different. This wine has real character and a greater complexity than the Cline. The Cline is smoother, softer, and fruitier.
Do you think that this wine has more finesse, dryness and layers of dark, savory flavors? For some palates, it may take a little getting used to — especially if we crave a touch of sweetness and loads of fruit. Remember, I flagged you that this grape is difficult to vinify and can show flavors of tar. Does this one do that? Some people like the flavors of this wine, and some don’t. This is about you and your taste. Make your decision.
Perhaps the main difference is the minerality we get in the wine. Is minerality something you like? Again, that depends on you and your taste. Old World and New World stand in contrast, side by side, with these two examples of the Mourvedre grape. We will find both similarities and contrasts as we journey.
Both wines make this grape of ancient origin — familiar in France, Australia, and Spain — a truly informative experience. I hope you have enjoyed our first leg and learned something from this winding journey through France and the New World.