Erin Rolek, the wine director at The Bachelor Farmer restaurant in Minneapolis, doesn’t remember when she first tasted Mondeuse, a French grape variety that’s becoming a cult favorite of the wine world. But she does remember her delight after her first sip. “It’s so delicious,” she says. “It’s one of the most delicious and crowd-pleasing red wines, in my view. They’re at really great and approachable price points, and you get everything a sommelier loves: lots of fruit, lots of acid, and it’s still juicy and really fresh.”
James O’Brien, the co-owner of Popina in Brooklyn, New York, had a similar reaction when he first tried Mondeuse during a ski trip in Chamonix. “I was fascinated by Mondeuse,” he says, “because I felt that it had the juiciness and brightness of Beaujolais but also the spiciness of Syrah. Those are two varieties—Gamay and Syrah—that I really love. This was like a rustic love child of the two.”
Mondeuse is predominantly a red grape, although there are small plantings of white and gray versions. The majority of it is produced in the Savoie region of France, but it’s also found in Switzerland, Australia, Argentina, and the United States. The grape was fairly common in California in the 1800s, although most of the old vines have been removed. Jaimee Motley, the winemaker at Jaimee Motley Wines and the assistant winemaker at Pax Mahle Wines in Sebastopol, California, credits Carole Meredith with planting new vines on Mount Veeder in Napa Valley in the mid-2000s and helping bring the grape back to the state. Meredith is the proprietor of Napa’s Lagier Meredith and a former professor in the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California at Davis.
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According to Elie Talaga, the winemaker at Vignoble de la Pierre–Yves Girard Madoux in Savoie, the vine tends to be very vigorous, producing many large clusters with big berries. “If we want to have good concentration in our Mondeuse,” he says, “we have to do a green harvest. We cut the clusters …. to concentrate the grapes we are leaving on the vine.”
Mondeuse requires a gentle hand in the winery. “Working with it is interesting because I consider it a rustic variety,” says Motley. “When you have high acid and high tannin, if you’re not careful, you can make a really bold, really strong wine.” Motley prefers crafting a more nuanced expression of Mondeuse. She leaves many grapes as whole clusters and favors pump-overs, finding that the technique does a better job of fostering the grape’s aromatics. “I press it myself with a one-ton basket press. I do this instead of using a big bladder press because with that little press you’re not going to extract as much tannin.” The wine goes into neutral oak barrels for aging.
Mondeuse is starting to pop up on wine lists in New York and a few other cities, but it’s still a new discovery for many people, even those in the industry, O’Brien says. For those who are familiar with it, a big part of its appeal is its affordable price point (bottles typically retail between $14 and $50). The aroma and taste are also draws. “I feel it’s the feminine version of Syrah,” Motley says. “It’s got this beautiful, exuberant nose when it’s made in a way that’s respectful of the variety. It’s very floral on the nose.”
“Mondeuse has big structure at first,” says Talaga, “which gives the wine a very good opportunity to age. You can easily age a Mondeuse bottle for at least five or six years. After that you can keep it in good condition in your cellar without any problem, especially the classic Mondeuse without oak.” (Many French winemakers do use oak, though, to help mellow the tannins.)
“Mondeuse is a hand-sell for sure, as most people have no idea what it is,” says O’Brien. “Somms geek out over it, so they are my go-to guest.” But people looking for something different and unique could be a good target audience, he notes, especially if they share a preference for Gamay or Syrah.
“When guests say they like fruit in red wine, I think that’s a good opening,” says Rolek. “I always say, ‘Would you like to try something a little different?’ and I can’t remember a time when someone hasn’t loved it. They’re not asking for it, but they’re coming back for it.”
To help the name stick in customers’ minds, Rolek says Bachelor Farmer’s servers will offer a wine pun with the glass. “We always say, ‘Don’t mind if Mondeuse,’ and people always laugh,” she says. “It’s this little thing they remember and come back for.”
Sophia McDonald is a freelance writer who lives in Eugene, Oregon. Her work has appeared in numerous publications and on websites, including Wine Enthusiast, Eating Well, Sip Northwest, and 1859 Oregon’s Magazine.