Think beyond rosé for wines from Provence

By Molly Steinbach
Posted 10/30/19

Think of Provence, and you probably think of lavender fields, ample sunshine, charming villages and rosé wine. The majority of wine made in Provence is pink, and for good reason. It's hot there, at least in the summer, and rosé is notably refreshing. Rosé also pairs well with the cuisine of the region: bouillabaisse and rosé. Yes, please!

You have exceeded your story limit for this 30-day period.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Think beyond rosé for wines from Provence

Posted

Think of Provence, and you probably think of lavender fields, ample sunshine, charming villages and rosé wine. The majority of wine made in Provence is pink, and for good reason. It's hot there, at least in the summer, and rosé is notably refreshing. Rosé also pairs well with the cuisine of the region: bouillabaisse and rosé. Yes, please!

But the most highly regarded (and highly priced) region within Provence is known for a wine about as far from the delicate, thirst-quenching rosé as you can imagine. Yes, Bandol makes rosé (and a glorious one, as we will see) and even some white wines, but its powerful, inky, gamy red is undeniably its star.

The primary grape in Bandol red wines must, by law, be mourvèdre, a grape that came to the region from Spain in the 16th century. (In Spain, the grape is called monastrell, and is gaining popularity in the United States, largely due to excellent value wines from the regions of Jumilla and Yecla; in grape-growing regions of the new world, like California and Australia, the grape is sometimes known as mataro.) Mourvèdre must comprise at least 50 percent, and up to 95 percent, of Bandol reds, the balance coming from grapes like grenache and cinsault.

Mourvèdre is known for its dark-colored, thick-skinned grapes that require intense heat to ripen fully, which is one reason it grows well in the Bandol region. Bandol hugs the coast of the Mediterranean to the southeast of Marseille; temperatures here can be higher than inland regions by double-digit degrees. The sun shines an average of 3,000 hours a year, and the natural amphitheater shape of Bandol captures all of them. Mourvèdre is susceptible to drought and, though summer rainfall in Bandol is minimal, the humidity from the sea and the deep calcareous soils provide enough moisture to keep this prima donna happy.

Red Bandol wines take time. Ten years in the bottle before the wine is at peak drinking form is not unusual. But I couldn't wait any longer to open a bottle of 2011 Domaine Tempier Bandol that I'd had in my cellar (read: closet) for several years already. The year 2011 was in the middle of a spate of moderate to not-so-great vintages for Bandol, which doesn't necessarily mean the wines won't be good, but it does usually mean that they're ready to drink earlier.

(The years 2012 and 2013 were particularly challenging, with cooler, wetter weather than normal, and unusual amounts of hail. But look out for the 2015s - they're going to knock your socks off in a few years.)

Tasting the Tempier right after the cork was pulled, the nose was full of tobacco leaf, cedar, woodsmoke, ink and incense. There was a hint of black fruit on the palate, as well as cocoa powder and graphite (I would say pencil shavings, but people always make fun of me when I say pencil shavings.)

After resting in the decanter for a couple of hours, mourvèdre's signature blackberry aroma began to emerge, along with some dark cherry. The richness grew as the fresh tobacco leaf deepened into aromatic pipe tobacco, and notes of vanilla and chocolate appeared on the palate.

Opening a bottle of Bandol is a truly wonderful experience, and I'm not just talking about the red wines (though that Tempier was magnificent). Truthfully, I've never tasted a white wine from Bandol - they're pretty rare, especially in our neck of the woods - but Bandol rosé delivers just as much as the celebrated red.

The aromas of 2017 Domaine de Pibarnon Bandol Rosé ($47) are mineral-driven with an abundance of gravel dust and chalk notes, which belies the incredible richness on the palate. The minerality is still there, but it is layered among creamy peach and grapefruit curd, with a lift from strawberry, raspberry, rose and white pepper.

Unlike the reds, there is no required minimum amount of mourvèdre in Bandol rosés, but Pibarnon uses a whopping 75 percent mourvèdre in this wine, lending it such complexity as well as ageability - this 2017 is not showing any signs of losing her youthful vigor.

For most of us, these are not everyday wines. But we're looking forward to a time of year when celebration is on our minds, and I can't think of any wines I rather celebrate with than Bandol.

Comments


Private mode detected!

In order to read our site, please exit private/incognito mode or log in to continue.