You may not have had a glass of monastrell recently, if ever, but you may have stumbled across the red wine mourvedre. Monastrell is the Spanish name for what the French call mourvedre, a grape that is enjoying something of a revival in Southern France. There are also significant plantings in California and Australia.
It's often blended with grenache and shiraz in Australia (and labelled as GSM). The blended wines are robust and quite heady and best drunk with food.
It's believed the grape had its origins in Spain and some of the best examples of 100 per cent monastrell are still from that country.
The berries are tiny but very sweet and tend to be high in alcohol and give off a gamey style in their youth, but develop a more mature, rounded and gentler flavour when aged. The grapes need copious amounts of sunshine to fully ripen, which explains why they grow well in Spain, France and especially that intense heat bowl known as the Barossa Valley in Australia.
Over recent years there has been a steady increase in the number and variety of Spanish wines appearing on our shelves. Spain has a lot of muscle when it comes to wine production with the most land planted vines in the world, so it's not surprising that a good deal of their product should find its way to our shores. While some of it can be on the expensive side, it's often quite reasonable and invariably good value for money, especially in the low-medium price range.
Spain also has an eclectic mix of grapes - quite a few of which are not grown anywhere else in the world - so there's always an opportunity to be pleasantly surprised with a varietal you've never heard of before.
Generally the wines range from lighter, drier whites to heavier alcoholic reds and, of course, Spain's speciality - dessert and fortified wines.
Like the Italians, the Spanish weren't in any hurry to embrace modern production methods but eventually they succumbed and did so with considerable enthusiasm.
This has been good news and has allowed Spain to increase quality and keep prices competitive.
The wines can often be like their tennis and football stars - precise and grandiose with lots of style, flair and panache. Don't be fooled into thinking because they're cheap they can't be any good. There's real value to be discovered on those shelves.
2009 Hecula Monastrell, $23
From South-Eastern Spain, this wine has big aromas of black fruit, sweet spice and licorice. It is fresh and lively and is perfect with red meats and casseroles.
2009 Coto de Hayas Crianza, $18
Another Spanish bargain, made from 60 per cent garnache (grenache) and 40 per cent tempranillo. It is intense red and violet in colour and is a smooth, complex wine with lots of intense spice fruit flavours. Try it with roasts, grilled meats, chorizo and cheese.