Bandol: Great Wines Of The Sun
Wednesday - January 30, 2008
Have you ever heard of Bandol? It’s a beautiful city in the high-rent district of Provence, southern France, and is located on the banks of the Mediterranean Sea. It also gives its name to one the greatest wines you have never heard of. On my most recent jaunt through the vineyards of France, I came to understand and, even more, to love the wines of Bandol.
Bandol can be made red, white and rose, and at its best is a singular wine you must experience. No matter what color it reflects in the glass, it is a wine of the sun. Made and grown in the sun of Provence, it is a wine that can give immense joy and pleasure akin to the great appellations of the world such as Burgundy and Bordeaux. How in the world, you may ask, am I to compare a humble Provencal wine to such privileged names? I say so because the best of Bandol is one of the great “capsules” of place and “terroir.” The combination of the warmth of the sun mediated by the ocean mere meters away and its distinct varietals create a wine greater than the sum of its parts. And as Cabernet and Merlot find their greatest forms in Bordeaux, so does Mourvedre reach its apogee here in Bandol.
Case in point: Domaine de la Terrebrune is an estate located in the commune of Ollioules founded in 1963 by Georges Delille, whose son, Reynald, now runs the property. It is set in a nook of earth where the soil is an orangeish brunette color (hence the name terre brune) speckled with stone. The vines are worked organically with an average age of 25 years. The white wine reminds me of ripe apricots, lemons, honey and wet stone. It is inviting and still refreshing despite being grown under the hot Provencal sun. The rose for which Provence is best known is even a step up in freshness. It has white and red flower aromas with peaches and cream to boot! I could barely spit the wine as I frantically searched for words to describe the flavors in my mouth and write them down. A smile stuck on my palate, needless to say. Now the red wine - here is something that not only quenches your thirst, but can also be a wine of meditation. It has the smell of the earth along with bristling ripe, black fruits. Sweet pipe tobacco and savory spices abound. In the palate, it is as rich as Syrah, with just as much elegance with a lengthy flavor of earth on the finish. This property’s wines are classy and polished, but not enough to take away the classic Provencal character that makes them so special.
Perhaps the most honored and honorable estate in Bandol is Domaine Tempier, founded in 1834 by the Peyraud family in the town of le Plan du Castellet. Lucien Peyraud himself was responsible for the area’s appellation status, and his wife, Lucie Peyraud (of Lulu’s Provencal Table fame), who in her 80s is as vibrant a woman I have met, still loves to receive guests with a bountiful feast in her home, or outside, if the sun permits. Today Daniel Ravier is making the most delectable wines in all of Provence here from a collection of old vineyards on rocky limestone soils. Their white wine is snatched up by fervent wine lovers the world over. It sings of ripe peaches, orange blossoms and cured citrus. It is lithe and elegant, with a balance that would make any Grand Cru white wine jealous. Tempier’s rose is perhaps the finest non-sparkling rose in the country. It is refined with gorgeously ripe fruit and rose essences. Imagine tasting a wine and letting it sink into the depths of your body as it refreshes you. This is that wine. The red is a wine with verve and panache. It is exuberantly ripe - framed with rich and smooth tannins and a finish of earth and fruit. It always has a note of game and rocks that undoubtedly speaks of the soils from which it comes. And if you are fortunate enough to acquire one of the single vineyard wines by the names of La Migoua, La Tourtine or Cabassaou, you are one lucky soul. I would be remiss to not mention that these wines age as well as any unfortified red wine. Tasting examples as far back as the 1970s leaves no doubt to their quality and intensity. They grow in age with aromas of an herb drawer, sweet Cuban cigars, dried blackberries, flowers and earth.
Earth is always a part of the wines of Bandol. And once you taste a string of them, you will not soon forget their signature on your palate. I will have to make room in my cellar for these new acquisitions. So should you.
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