Bandol 101: The Jewel of Provence

If Provence enjoys its status as a gold standard for bone-dry rosés, then Bandol would be the jewel in its crown. While Provençal rosé production stretches from Arles to Nice, Bandol occupies a measly 1,500 hectares of vineyard space blanketed around the seaside town of the same name. Bandol rosés are some of the world's longest lived, and often command a higher price than the average pink bottle. What's more, Bandol is the only corner of Provence to earn even greater renown for its structured, collectible reds. The key to Bandol's age-worthy success? Most point to the Mourvèdre grape. Bandol's terroir is particularly well suited to this quintessentially Mediterranean variety – its drought-resistant vines thrive in warm, coastal sites. France cultivates the second largest vineyard area for Mourvèdre – behind the grape's native home of Spain, where it goes by the name Monastrell . Nonetheless, Mourvèdre's greatest claim to fame is as a blending variety, a critical, but supporting player in the famous GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre) blends of the Rhône Valley. That's not the case in Bandol. Here, Mourvèdre steals the spotlight – the only appellation in France where it's granted top billing. According to Romain Bournaud, winemaker at Bastide de la Ciselette, Mourvèdre is "a grape who needs sun and water." Bandol offers that in spades. The region acts as a south-facing amphitheater, its sun-drenched slopes descending towards and moderated by the Mediterranean Sea. Most vineyards drape atop hillside terraces – locally known as "restanques." Cold winds further inland are barricaded by the Massif de la Sainte-Baume, standing just north of the appellation's boundary. For a region as condensed as Bandol, the vineyards find an astonishing breadth of soil variation. On the whole, however, Bandol's dominant soil-type oscillates between clay and limestone, the wines achieving particular length and finesse when the latter finds its greatest concentrations. All these factors prove necessary to fully ripen the Mourvèdre grape, whose growing season can endure long into the autumn. Historically, it has proven a tremendous challenge to cultivate Mourvèdre of excellence in more northerly regions. That may no longer be the case, and in the process, Bandol – whose vines already strike the fine balance between struggle and survival – faces new obstacles. According to Daniel Ravier, winemaker at Domaine Tempier, with the advent of climate change, Mourvèdre's limit for successful viticulture continues to extend northward. "We now find more and more compelling Mourvèdres grown further north, which rarely would have been the case thirty years ago," Ravier explains. Furthermore, while Mourvèdre can subsist on relatively little water, "the drought epidemic has worsened over the past few years and is becoming increasingly problematic." And that's only one of Bandol's greatest threats. Resting on the western edge of the French Riviera, Bandol occupies prime real estate – and not just for winegrowing. According to "The Oxford Companion to Wine," Bandol's vineyard acreage has dropped sharply to less than half of what it was in the early 2000s, much due to the encroachment of property developments. While vineyards may shrink, Bandol's wines, nonetheless, only seem to achieve greater renown. A minuscule amount of white wine, based on Clairette , exists in Bandol, but two-thirds of the region's output is pink. While appellation requirements only necessitate a minimum of 20% Mourvèdre for rosé wines, several of the top producers will dedicate half the blend or higher to the region's signature variety. Grenache and Cinsaut will traditionally fill out the rest of the wine, along with a select few additional varieties. Bandol rosés achieve the same complexity and restraint as the rest of their Provençal neighbors, yet they somehow taste fleshier, more concentrated and ample, without being more extracted. Daniel Ravier finds them particularly well suited for the dinner table, praising their "ability to pair with anything, especially spicy cuisines." Bouillabaisse too, the garlicky fish stew native to Marseille just west, makes for a compelling match. Bandol Rouge, on the other hand, beckons a rack of lamb. Excellent examples balance a regal precision and finesse with an untethered rusticity - a juxtaposition fitting for an appellation nested between the Côte d'Azur and Provence's humbler addresses. Tasting notes can easily range from violet and lavender to leather and game all within the same wine. Regulations oblige a minimum 50% Mourvèdre, but many producers choose to make nearly varietal offerings. At their best, the red wines of Bandol yield a tannic structure as polished as Bordeaux , yet as juicy as the Southern Rhône. In an endless sea of pink, Bandol Rouge provides Provence its winning hand as a candidate among France's most serious wines for the cellar. — Bryce Wiatrak Have you uncorked a bottle of Bandol recently? Whether white, red, or rosé, we want to see what you’ve been drinking. Snap a photo of the label and add your notes on Delectable!

Domaine de Terrebrune

Bandol Mourvedre Blend 2013

Domaine de Terrebrune's Bandol Rouge tastes of the arid landscape from which it is born. Aromas of rosemary, garrigue, fennel, and dried violet waft from the glass, before presenting a pure, stoic pillar of more earthly flavors on the palate. Terrestrial and ethereal at once, Terrebrune embraces both Bandol's more regal and gratifyingly rustic characters. 85% Mourvèdre, 10% Grenache, 5% Cinsaut. — 2 years ago

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Château de Pibarnon (Comte de Saint Victor)

Bandol Mourvedre Blend 2013

Considered a benchmark for the region, Château de Pibarnon crafts a simply extraordinary Bandol Rouge. Enjoying this slowly over the last three hours, my tasting notes change with every sip. At first it was game and anise, later dried violets and marzipan. Now, as my glass nears empty, it tastes of crushed rocks, iodine, leather, fresh figs, and dark chocolate. The textural complexities have too evolved with time - softening from its initial tannic austerity to an ethereal elegance. Luckily, two-thirds of the bottle remain, and I can’t wait to see what this wine has to say tomorrow. 90% Mourvèdre, 10% Grenache. — 2 years ago

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Domaine de Terrebrune

Bandol Mourvedre Blend Rosé 2016

Whereas most of Bandol's top estates concentrate themselves in the appellation's center, Domaine de Terrebrune, a personal favorite, finds itself on the eastern edge. While its name may connote heavier soils, a bedrock of limestone gives Terrebrune's wines their finesse and ethereal precision. With flavors of rounded river rocks, cherry pit, raspberry, Bergamot orange peel, and sweet garden herbs, the Terrebrune 2016 demonstrates why Bandol is such a singular place for top tier rosé. 50% Mourvèdre, 25% Grenache, 25% Cinsaut. — 2 years ago

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Domaine Tempier

Bandol Carignan Blend 2015

Domaine Tempier may well be the most famous name in Bandol, so much so that it's difficult to discern if they're more beloved for their rosé or their rouge, both of which have earned diehard followings. Tempier is also one of the few Bandol wineries to craft a suite of single vineyard bottlings. Their entry level red, however, is what you'll more frequently encounter - and it always delivers. To sum up the wine in a word? Spice. Seductive and piquant, it tastes of anise, ginger, spice cake, cassis, and black plum. Streamlined and pure, the wine also merits praise for its chalky texture and tannic structure that provide this Bandol such tremendous longevity. 75% Mourvèdre, 14% Grenache, 9% Cinsaut, 2% Carignan. — 2 years ago

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Bastide de la Ciselette

Bandol Rosé

Bastide de la Ciselette is one of the newest entrants to Bandol, only opening its doors in 2010. Both their rosé and red Bandol wines are excellent and welcome additions to their tiny categories. The 2017 rosé demonstrates tremendous complexity, especially considering its youth. Grassy, herbaceous flavors of jasmine and lavender meet notes of leather and garrigue, as well as a distinctively bitter tahini-like quality on the biting finish. A whopping 72% Mourvèdre (a high percentage for Bandol rosé) deserves much of the credit for the wine's character. — 2 years ago

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Domaine du Gros' Noré

Bandol Mourvedre Blend 2015

Domaine Du Gros ‘Noré harvests some of the most pedigreed fruit in Bandol, for years selling their grapes to Domaine Ott and Château de Pibarnon. Today, they craft a Bandol Rouge of elegance and length. Its fruit profile in this vintage veers just a notch redder than many of its peers - tasting of red currants, plum and game. 80% Mourvèdre, 15% Grenache, 5% Cinsaut.
— 2 years ago

Bastide de la Ciselette

Bandol Red Blend 2015

Bastide de la Ciselette leans lighter and fresher in their expression of Bandol Rouge. Soft, caressing tannins find length in a wine that tastes of brambly black fruits, licorice, and resinous rosemary. While deceptively approachable for a young wine from this corner of Provence, hints of vanillin on the finish indicate it has yet to fully come into its own. 80% Mourvèdre, 20% Grenache. — 2 years ago

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