Super interesting Sunday night wine tonight: the 2008 Juan Gil Monastrell from the lesser-known Jumilla wine region in eastern Spain. This wine comes from grapes grown on 40+ year old vines; the older the vines, the less fruit they produce, but the more concentrated and complex that fruit is (the wonders of Mother Nature), which is why producers trumpet Old Vines if they have them. Monastrell is a grape of many names, all of which strangely start with M: apart from its Spanish name, it is known as Mourvedre (and sometimes Morastel) in France and Mataro in Australia. I don’t know if there’s any kind of movement afoot to create an Esperanto-like universal world wine language, but if there is, I would sign the petition. What makes the Juan Gil interesting is that Monastrell/Mourvedre/Mataro is usually a blending grape that gets added to wines made predominantly of other varietals in lesser quantities to boost the blend’s colour and structure; very rarely does it get to be the star of the show in a bottle of wine, but this Juan Gil is 100% pure Monastrell, front and centre.
This is a wine that kind of sneaks up on you: at first sight and smell it seems like a pleasant, fruity, but almost tame sipping wine, and then you taste it and BAM! — it jumps all over your palate with wild abandon. It has a translucent, almost transparent, ruby colour (you can easily see directly through it, as evidenced in the picture to the right) that suggests low pigmentation in the underlying grapes, and a quiet, deceiving nose primarily of sweet cherry (almost like Nibs licorice, for those of you who ate as much of that as I did growing up) and dusty earth. None of that foreshadows the huge, immediate, dense flavour explosion on the palate, where sweet raspberry and cherry fruits, cherry cola, cinnamon, brambly/earthy notes and strong smoke and cedar flavours (both of which are direct by-products of the wine being aged in oak, likely new oak which leaves a stronger flavour impression) detonate instantaneously as soon as the wine touches your tongue. Accompanying this barrage of flavour is an underlying sense of heat from the (tsk) 15% alcohol level which is part-pleasant, part-distracting. The high alcohol is mostly balanced by the Juan Gil’s bright acidity and fine, smooth tannins, but not entirely…it still doesn’t receive the Sub-15% Club’s Seal of Approval. That said, however, this is still a plush, velvety, mouthfilling and ultimately satisfying red, so I can mostly forgive…this time.
I masterfully paired the Monastrell with one of my top 10 favourite meals of all time: Kraft Dinner. Laugh if you will, but not only is KD one of the most satisfying things in the world that takes less than 10 minutes to make, but it is also a remarkably versatile wine companion. I don’t know if it’s the neutrality of the pasta noodles, the creaminess or saltiness of the processed cheese mix, the sweetness or acidity of the ketchup that I add to it, some miraculous combination of all of the above or just my imagination, but I’ve had Kraft Dinner with wine many, MANY times and have never found a wine pairing that REALLY doesn’t work with it. I’ve had it with oaky Chardonnays, delicate Pinot Noirs, huge Aussie Shirazes, Napa Valley Cabernets, Alsatian Pinot Gris, you name it; KD is up to the challenge. I’m not saying that every one of those pairings was an ideal match, but none of them were a total disaster, and that makes Kraft Dinner the ideal wine/food fallback. So throw out your food pairing charts and your lists of wine matching rules: if you bring that new bottle home and don’t want to wreck it by drinking it with an incompatible meal, just get some water a-boiling and reach for that trusty cardboard box.
$20 to $30 CDN[Wine Jargon Notes: varietals = see this previous post structure = the sum total of all of the compounds/components that form the framework or architecture of a wine, including its acidity, tannin, and alcohol pigmentation = see this previous post]