It turns out that we aren’t being charged a premium in the US – Bandol wines are pretty much exactly the same price at home as they are in France. Allocations are small, even on its home turf. Now is the tail end of rosé season but shopkeepers still have signs up restricting consumers to two bottles at a time of some of the more popular domaines, namely Tempier and Ott, which put Bandol on the international wine scene. But there is much more to be had than these two pillars of this small AOC, and we rolled up our sleeves to do the hard work of trying as many of these wines as possible.
Mourvèdre, the star of Bandol, sits squarely in the finicky camp of grapes that can still only be grown in certain areas. Happily, it hasn’t been ruined by dumbed down versions. Here, it does well in the sunny climes of Mediterranean France and also benefits from solid amounts of humidity and precipitation. Another major helping hand in Bandol is the mistral winds, which have a cooling effect on the grapes, allowing them to mature evenly. We were told by a local winemaker that better vintages have higher percentages of Mourvèdre but all the same, bottles labeled Bandol AOC only need 50% Mourvèdre and the rest can be Grenache or Cinsault.
Coming to Bandol was revelatory to both of us as Mourvèdre is spritely as grapes go – it can be made into forgettable, young Spanish reds and also figures prominently into prized wines from the Rhone. To boil it down to basic aromas – blackberry, game, baking spices, thyme are a few that have been cited by experts – would be too simplistic and certainly each wine we tried exhibited different dominant characteristics. Many vineyards still do their harvesting by hand, and thus the influence of terroir in Bandol wines is exceptionally noticeable. Here are our tasting notes from our two days in Bandol:
Domaine de Olivette 2005
Savory notes dominate the bouquet and follow through on the palate. This wine would pair well with steak. The wine shop proprietress served it to us chilled, the reason behind which she explained in French and we did our usual nod and “d’accord!” without really understanding why. One day we’ll get better at confessing “Pardon, je ne pas comprends Français…Angalis, SVP?”
A robust wine that pairs well with grilled fish but cannot stand up to flavorful red meat. Stone fruit on the nose, in the mouth it’s nice and juicy.
Domaine de Jean-Pierre Gaussen 2008
70% Mourvèdre and 30% Grenache and Cinsault. Easy drinking and approachable, this medium-bodied wine was the fruitiest of the bunch we tried with a pleasing cherry finish. Lovers of California cab, matriculate to Bandol with this bottle.
Earthy on the nose but red fruit-driven on the palate. Excellent balance. Finish is long and silky – make sure you’re sitting down or else your knees might buckle!