You’ve heard of Burgundy and Bordeaux, but you most likely haven’t heard of Bandol. That’s a shame, because it produces some of the most exciting and unique red and rosé wines in the world, with AOC standards that exceed those of Burgundy and Bordeaux.
If you think of Burgundy as France’s northern “B,” and Bordeaux as France’s central (albeit western) “B,” then you can think of Bandol as France’s southern “B.” It is situated on the sunny Mediterranean coast, technically part of the French Riviera in south-eastern France, and part of Provence. While not anywhere near as large as Bordeaux or Burgundy (and this may be part of the reason you haven’t heard of it), Bandol has even more stringent winemaking requirements and rigor that result in exceedingly distinctive and high-quality wines.
When you think of Bandol, your first thought should be of Mourvèdre. Mourvèdre is the grape variety that defines the Bandol region because it is required to be included at a minimum of 50% in every Bandol red wine, and it often accounts for much more than half in Bandol reds and rosés. As of the writing of this, there is a restriction that requires a minimum of 2 grape varieties in every bottle of Bandol wine – red, white, or rosé. Therefore there is also a maximum of 95% Mourvèdre in any cepage (blend), though many Bandol vignerons would like to get rid of this to allow for 100% Mourvèdre wines.
Mourvèdre is to Bandol as Pinot Noir is to Burgundy, or as Merlot is to Bordeaux. Though in Provence, which is known for its rosés, Bandol stands alone as the only Provençal commune known for its red wines. Grenache and Cinsault are the two other main red grape varieties that are most often used in in Bandol in blends with Mourvèdre. Mourvèdre is also known as Mataro and Monastrell in Spain and California.
Mourvèdre is ideal for this region in the farthest south of France because it loves heat. The vines bud late and the grapes ripen late, so in cooler climates it may never fully ripen. As the world’s climate changes, Mourvèdre may become an ideal grape to plant that can take, and love, the heat and dryness.
Though Mourvèdre naturally produces a smaller crop of grapes, Bandol restricted the production per acre to levels much lower than in Burgundy and Bordeaux. There is a saying in Bandol, “One vine, one bottle of wine” which speaks to this extremely low-yield type of viticulture. Additionally, Mourvèdre vines must be at least 8 years old before they are allowed to be used for red Bandol wine. This is double the minimum age required for vines in Burgundy and Bordeaux. Bandol red wine must also be aged in barrel a minimum of 18 months, though many producers age their wines much longer.
The effect of all these regulations is to mandate the highest possible quality for Bandol reds. The regulations are also in place because of the particular nature of Mourvèdre in Bandol, which is aggressively tannic in its youth, both viticulturally and oenologically. Lower yields, older vines, and extended aging help moderate and soften this square structure, leading to wines of finesse with remarkable ageability.
Another requirement in Bandol, aimed at controlling for the highest quality of wine, is mandatory hand-harvesting of grapes. Other traditions of the region include the use of foudre – massive oak casks – for aging the wine, and restanqes – terraces for the vines, cut into the south-facing hillsides.
Fun Fact (or, should I say, Foudre for Thought?): foudre, while also a large wine cask, is the French word for “lightning.” It’s not a coincidence that the Centralas logo includes a lightning bolt. There are several reasons for the Centralas logo, and one of them is a nod to Bandol and its use of foudre.
It should be no surprise, given Mourvèdre’s love of hot and somewhat arid climates, that it does well in Santa Barbara County, where Centralas sources its grapes. We see amazing, untapped potential for Mourvèdre in this part of California, which has an almost perfect combination of soil types and climate for this grape. Here the Mourvèdre grapes tannins are moderated by some happy magic of the terrior, allowing for reds that range in style from almost ethereal, Pinot Noir-like gems, to deep, dark-fruited and opulent elixirs that are unmatched in complexity.
Then there’s the rosé made from Mourvèdre in Santa Barbara County, some of which may be the finest of its kind on earth.
If you want to experience the uniqueness and high-quality of Bandol, as well as taste one of the inspirations for Centralas’s barrel-aged rosé, we highly recommend Chateau Vannières’ La Patience de Vannières 2017. This is barrel-aged and age-able rosé. It smells of butter-poached strawberries and pink grapefruit zest simmered in cream. The taste is rich, full-bodied for a rosé, with a creamy texture and mouth-watering minerality/salinity. The finish is as endless as the food-pairing opportunities. As crazy as it sounds, this wine may be the perfect pairing for both steamed lobster with clarified butter or a lobster roll, and a Big Mac or a grilled filet mignon with herb butter.
At $60, La Patience de Vannières takes rosé to whole new level. The Boisseaux family, who run Chateau Vannières, are originally from Beaune, in Burgundy, and they made La Patience de Vannières in the style of a white Grand Cru from Burgundy. You can taste the Burgundian influence, but they have achieved something new and uniquely Bandol-ian.