Tuesday, February 12, 2008

An Imaginary Wine Vacation in Bandol

The dollar sucks and my daughter is only 1 year old. These are the major issues that make it seem too difficult for BrooklynLady and me to go to France in the next few months. But I have an active imagination and lately I've been thinking about the south of France, Provence in particular. Wouldn't it be great to spend a few days wandering amidst the fields of lavender, biking on narrow roads on cliffs, eating lunch on a terrace by the sea and sipping a beautiful old rosé?

I'll answer for you - yes, it would be nice.

But that ain't happenin' for me anytime soon. So instead we decided to spend a couple of days drinking the wines of Provence, specifically the Bandol appellation. Why Bandol? Wrong weather for rosé, for one. Wintry red wine kind of nights. Bandol is quietly known for making some of the finer red wines in Provence. And Bandol is the only appellation in France, I believe, where the Mourvèdre grape must comprise at least 50% of the wine. Mourvèdre is a late ripening thick skinned variety that does very well in this hot former fishing village, now fancy resort area. It is commonly blended in many southern Rhône wines and in the Languedoc-Roussillon region directly to the west of Provence. But in Bandol, Mourvèdre is the star, and that's unique.

If you look at this map and zoom in one level, you'll see the town of Bandol on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, about 15 KM west of Toulon and maybe 50 KM east of Marseille. This is a hot weather place folks, seaside resort cities abound. This is a place for growing thick-skinned grapes that can withstand high temperatures. In addition to Mourvèdre, Cinsaut and Grenache are also widely used, and Syrah and Carignan can be included in smaller amounts, up to 10% individually or up to 15% when they're both included.

Want to learn more about Provence wine - take a look at some of Bert's wonderful posts on Provence on Wine Terroirs. It's the next best thing to visiting the region.

Bandol reds are not really meant for drinking young. Although they can show some nice fruit when young, from what I read, it is with age that they exhibit their true character - deeply pitched and loaded with animal and leather. These are high alcohol wines, which makes sense. The grapes get very ripe in such a hot climate, and fermenting the wine dry means eating up a lot of sugar, creating lots of alcohol.

We roasted a leg of lamb rubbed with Herbs de Provence and went to town tasting four wines. We re-tasted each of them over several days - what, you thought we would polish off 4 bottles between the two of us in one night? This ain't college, pal.

What struck me most was this - the wines have an incredible sense of place, a dusty, hot, clay, rustic, county town sort of feel, and if you can let yourself roll with it, the wines are very romantic. They feel positively out of place in my chilly Brooklyn apartment. They belong in a cottage with lavender fields and garrique outside and raspberry patches and the Mediterranean sea in the distance. They needed food, and didn't do as well on their own.

1999 Galantin Longue Gard, $36. This was all animal fur and brett on the nose when first opened, and in a really serious way - lots of dung happening here. Then some beef blood, some iron, some soft underside of leather belt. The fruit is gone, this is secondary. The palate is earthy and warm with an animal/herbal persistence and a dusty feel to the whole thing. Very funky, very intense, not for the faint of heart. Naturally made and conveys a real sense of place. I'm still not sure whether I liked it or was afraid of it.

2001 Chateau de Pibarnon, $18, half bottle. Altogether different nose. I guessed that there was less Mourvèdre in the blend, and I was dead wrong - 90% Mourvèdre here. Lighter, brighter, lots of raspberries and roasted earth. But with some air time this wine smelled like the panther cage at the Bronx zoo - pheromones all over the place. The palate is berries and cocoa powder and funky earth. In the end, very complex and interesting wine, and at 14%, relatively low in alcohol and drinkable.

2004 Domaine du Gros' Noré, $32. Raspy and rough red raspberry on the nose. Primary fruit still, but framed by wet clay earth. The palate is juicy and red with good acids but lots of alcohol heat too - it's 15% after all. On the third day open, probably a good proxy for cellaring 10 years, the wine has lovely floral and black licorice notes.

2004 Domaine de la Tour du Bon, $29. Great nose, very deep with lavender, ripe plums, and earth. Maybe even some black olives in there, but that could be wishful thinking. Smooth dark berries on the palate and a very dusty finish. This is an awkward teenager.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Brooklynguy....I mean, not for the compliments, but for making me want hard to try a Bandol, which I haven't done since last summer or autumn maybe. This dusty feel, this is indeed something that I think I felt with some Bandol reds, like if the scorching summer-heat had somehow transformed into this aroma.Comes a hint of eucalyptus and you really visualize the scene...
Great post!

peter said...

The Gros Noré is killing after 10 years; my 98s are just ready now. I tried a 00 recently and I'm going to wait... I can't believe they're so expensive now. I paid like 18 bucks for them I think.

Brooklynguy said...

Bert! - Great to see you around these parts. The compliments are absolutely on target - your writing makes me feel like I'm wherever you are. And you go to some pretty nice places. I'm glad this post brought a little Bandol inspiration back to you.

hi peter - the Galantin in the oldest version I've tasted. I can imagine that the wines take on all sorts of character with time. interesting that you got into Bandol in '98 - how'd that happen? i'm telling you, there is just too much good wine out there to cellar. who has room for it all, other than you farmhouse in the country types?

Anonymous said...

I once visited Bandol (with Kermit Lynch, though I'm sure he's forgotten it) including Gros Nore (where, if I understood him correctly, the vigneron built the beautiful stone winery himself--check out the website). We even had lunch on his terrace, with his underfed hunting dogs begging for morsels. I guess I was impressed because I have some of the '99, '00, and '01, as well as 2005 (but I'm almost afraid of what I fear will be its hugeness).

Went to Tour du Bon, too, where the dogs lapped up wine off of the winery floor. They seemed happy. Gives new meaning to "a dog's life."

peter said...

My "farmhouse" has no cellar- high water table, don't you know. I have a fridge, and keep the main stash in VT in a family basement (which helps with the not-drinking.)

I bought a case of the 98 on a tip, and followed it with the 2000 since it was so good. We should crack one in Brooklyn sometime. I also have a CDP that might just win you over.

Anonymous said...

Back in 2003 a friend and I drove down to Provence from Trier and visited Tempier, Gros'Noré, Pradeaux, and Pibarnon. As in Chateauenuf, we bought mostly 2001s, a top vintage. What alarms me, however, is the rising alcohol levels, especially in Bandol. In contrast, my favorite Chateauneuf, Bois de Boursan, has no extreme alcohol on it in '01. I'm fond of Bandol as well as Chateauneuf, but both appellations have to worry about this. For example, Tempier Migoua 2001 reads 15 degrees on the label, hence it's probably higher than this. The winemaker at Tempier, Daniel Ravier, said they had to wait for the phenolic maturity and recommends serving the wines cool. This was also a problem on the Mosel in the 2006 vintage. I've heard rumors that certain domaines in Chateauneuf (such as Marcoux) have 16 degrees in '06.

Lars Carlberg

Anonymous said...

And there i was rueing my coldwater apartment and the months i would have to wait untill my Tempier Migoua 2001's warmed up enough to drink when up pops Lars with the suggestion to serve cool and you know what? He's right! Cheers!

Brooklynguy said...

hey steve - sounds like an amazing experience. how did you happen to do that? have you tasted the wines you brought back with you recently? i guess hunting dogs hunt better if they're hungry?

hey peter - i keep the main stash somewhere else too. only way to actually keep it. lemme know when you're in brooklyn.

hi lars - glad to see you on the comment board - you always have interesting things to say and better that anyone can read them instead of just me. so alcohol levels were typically lower than they are now in Bandol (and CdP)? I didn't realize that. To what do you attribute this?

hey anon - i hope that means that you opened the wine, and possibly are drinking it right now. how is it?

Anonymous said...

Since the 2000 vintage (ignoring 2002) phenolic maturity has been lagging behind, it seems. I think it's attributed to climate change. I still have a few Bandols from '95 and '98, neither vintage tastes alcoholic nor do their labels read 15 degrees. As regards serving cool, I always pour in the warmer months regardless of vintage my reds out of the fridge. Most southern Rhone and Bandol growers will also tell you that they taste better slightly cooler. Once in the glass, they'll warm up some. But if served too warm, they taste flabby and often alcoholic. Obviously, if one has a vaulted cellar with ideal temperatures no need to cool in a fridge beforehand.


peter said...

Roger. I'll need to get to VT for the CDP, but other things are on hand. You can email me at my site for real contact info. Turns out I have a 99 Tempier in the fridge...

Anonymous said...

I lucked into the lunch at Gros Nore because I was tagging along with a friend who was a Kermit Lynch employee.

I forgot to mention that we had the 2003 Bandol that day (a vintage that was not marketed). It was terrific. I think these wines need a few years, so among those I've bought I've tried only the '99. It was good (but not as good as that '93--maybe it's a vintage thing).

--Steve L. (I think I can only post as Anonymous now because the comment form has been fiddled with. Maybe that's what Bert had to do, too, and he's anything but anonymous.)

Brooklynguy said...

steve l - why no marketing 03 - too hot and intense? you said the wine was terrific though. i think that enjoying a wine over lunch at the place it was made increases the love of the wine by at least one factor. and i'm fine with that. blogger did in fact fiddle with commenting. over and over again, they fiddle. sorry it's difficult.

Anonymous said...

Prior to 1997 (I think) there was no Gros Nore--historically the grapes were sold off to some of Bandol's more famous producers. The 1993 I had was made for family consumption. --Steve L.

Anonymous said...

Just discovered your Blog and was thrilled to see your impressions of Bandol. Finally, some current, thoughtful and honest discourse on this fantastic appellation.

My wife and I visited provence in 06 and sought out the picturesque village of Cassis instead of Bandol and while it was an amazing stay, I wished we had visited both somehow. We were suffering from some wine tasting fatique when we hit the coast and I knew if we made it to Bandol, it would be back on- bigtime.

Living in Ontario, Canada - I'm restricted to the offerings of our government wine stores. Thankfully, there are some wines being released this weekend from Bandol. I'm looking forward to picking up two wines from La Bastide Blanche in Bandol will be released: the 03 Cuvee Estagnol and the 04 Cuvee Fontaneou - both of which are crafted from old vines with small percentages of Grenache or Cinsault I beliveve depending on the Cuvee.

I've not had the wines of Bastide Blanche but what I've read suggests they are a good producer. Both wines retail for $26 here.

As others have posted, I plan to stick them away until their 10th birthday's.

Again, really enjoyed your musings on Bandol and having found your Blog, will continue to make it a destination.

Here's to Imaginary Vacations in Bandol!


Anonymous said...

Absolutely, wine can be like travel for the time-challenged - if you can't fly to it, then you can at least treat yourself to the taste of being there. For me working a lot of the time wine often does seem to transport one away and capture a feeling of "place."

Like Stephen I am after those two Bastide Blanche wines - the 'regular' 04 Fontaneou is a fairly big, generous Mourvédre (CAD 23) and the still more powerful CUVÉE ESTAGNOL'03 (CAD 27) I plan to sample tonight, as a preview to some bottles I will age.

Thanks for the insights on aging this kind of wine! Great French wine truly evokes a sense of 'being there' like almost nothing else in the world. At least more than a viewing of 'A Good Year' or some film one watches mainly for the scenery.

Happy travels in your glass,

Anonymous said...

* Correction * the '04 for CAD-23 is simply 'Bandol', the Fontanou '04 is yet a third wine & one I will have to get a few of those also from this fine producer - thank you Stephen.