Monday, 18 November 2013

Bandol wine tours - a late summer escape

Richard and his Bandolaise wife have been living in Toulon for 2 years and started up Bandol Wine Tours in early 2013. They offer day long and half day tours at reasonable prices; day long tours including what looked to be an amazing lunch in a wonderful setting. As we were only in Toulon for a short time we opted for the half day tour, which lasts around 3.5 hours, taking in visits and tastings at two domaines.

Richard skillfully manipulated his 8-seater minibus up the very narrow lane where we were staying, and after a friendly greeting we set off, and he began to give us an introduction to the Bandol region and its wines.

The Bandol region produces wines mainly of Mourvèdre, Grenache and Cinsault blends, the warm coastal climate being ideal for the late-ripening Mourvèdre grapes. The good climate also means the quality of wine is consistent from year to year. Bandol's red and rosé wines contain a high proportion of Mourvèdre (minimum of 50%, but often higher). Syrah and Carignan can also be used in blends, but in much smaller proportions. In the last ten years they have started to grow grapes for white wines too. Due to the slopes and terraces in the vineyards the grapes have to be hand-picked rather than mechanically harvested.

Domaine Bunan
Bandol is one of the smallest wine regions in Provence with only 2700 hectares - only 1500 of these are used for used for Bandol wine, the rest being used for Vin de Pays. Regulations state the Bandol wine must spend eighteen months in cask, and they usually spend another two years in bottle after that.

 

Our first stop was at Domaine Bunan, one of largest Bandol producers. Domaine Bunan was started by two brothers Paul and Pierre Bunan who had to evacuate Algeria as the "pieds noir" when Algeria was given independence. At the tender age of 15 they arrived in Bandol and started up the vineyards producing Chateau de la Rouviere and Moulin des Costes (one for each brother) - quite an achievement. They have around 5000 vines per hectare, producing one bottle of wine per vine.

 

 

After a look around the winery (and a taste of some of the delicious freshly pressed grape juice) we got to the tasting. Bunan's wines are all organic and have won dozens of medals and awards. We tasted the red, white and rosé from both vineyard sites, the Chateau de la Rouviere just edging it for us in terms of our preferred style and flavour.

 

 

Chateau de la Rouviere
  • White (2012) - floral, fruity, and delicate, predominantly Clairette.
  • Rosé (2012) - pale salmon pink, a blend of Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Grenache, delicate in colour but not in flavour, with powerful fruity and floral notes.
  • Red (2006) - mostly Mourvèdre, which is obvious in the flavour, it's a tannic, powerful and delicious drop.

 

Moulin des Costes
  • White (2012) - Sauvignon Blanc, Clairette, Ugni Blanc and Bourboulenc (a new grape variety for us), fresh and delicately flavoured.
  • Rosé (2012) - salmon pink, floral, fruity and fresh. A very good example showing why Provence rosé is so highly regarded.
  • Red (2009) - late harvest grapes, including syrah in the blend. Powerful red fruit flavours, tannic, yet with a velvety mouthfeel.
  • Charriage Rouge (2009) - a big powerful red, that smacks you round the face with full on fruit and depth of flavour. If anything it was a little too punchy for us. This is made with more mature vines for a more powerful flavour/finish, highly tannic, spicy and intense.

 


If you wanted to sample some Bunan wine yourself, they do also sell to Marks and Spencer in the UK.

Our second visit of the afternoon was to Domaine de Terrebrune which is located at the east-most point of the Bandol appellation. Similarly to Bunan they age their wines for eighteen months in oak barrels, and they then spend a minimum of two years in bottle. Owner Reynald Delille also keeps his own hoard of wine in the cellar - and it really is a huge stash, with wall upon wall of bottles dating back to the 1970's.

 

When you look at the vineyards you can see see that the older Bandol vines are not in straight lines - this is due to the movement of the vines over the years in which they have been planted. At Terrebrune the old vines have been there for over fifty years. They have 30 hectares, with limestone and clay soil.


6000 litre barrels
The Terrebrune rosé was recently labelled the best in the world by La Revue du Vin de France, a 55% Mourvèdre and Cinsault Grenache blend. Sadly there was none of the world's best rosé on offer for tasting, but we did manage to snaffle a bottle to bring home with us - keep an eye out for a review when we decide to take the plunge and open it!


Following a tour of the winery and a look at Reynald's  private stash we got to the tasting. The reds were some great examples of how good wine from Bandol can be, and the three vintages we tried gave us a good demonstration of how age can affect the taste of these wines. The 2009 (the youngest we tried) was very fruity with cherries on the nose (and to taste). Whilst delicious it was obviously still very young, needing more time in bottle. I'd imagine this would age really well, and if we'd had the luggage space we'd have taken some to keep and see how it developed over time.


The 2008 was completely different on the nose and to taste, with slight vegetal notes on the nose, and very easy drinking. We wondered if perhaps this wasn't their best vintage, as we found the flavour disappointing when compared to the 2009, despite it having the advantage of an extra year in bottle. The 2006 was a smokey, red fruit driven wine, very mellow and easily quaffable, but with a deep full flavour with it, and was definitely our pick of the bunch.


We can highly recommend Bandol wine tours, Richard is a entertaining and knowledgeable host who knows the best places to go in Bandol.  

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