by Sandra Crittenden

by Sandra Crittenden

Monday, August 27, 2012

More on Bandol

Bandol, one of Provence's oldest wine growing regions, is located near the Mediterranean Coast. Driving through the region, you see medieval villages, terraced vineyards on the hillsides and glimpses of the sea. It can only be described as picturesque. In general, the topsoil is gravel and stone dominated lying over clay, limestone and sandstone. Mourvedre is the most important grape when thinking about Bandol Red and Rosé wine. The climate is Mediterranean and during my time there, the locals actually apologized for what they felt were unusally high temperatures but, of course, it was not even close to the brutal heat of Houston in August. While I was in Bandol, it was blue skies and sunshine with gentle breezes making for a most beautiful day.
After a couple of extra spins through a roundabout, we finally made it to the Chateau Romassan estate of Domaines Ott. This estate lies at the foot of the village of Le Castellet in the center of the Bandol appellation and it has about 150 acres in use for wine production. The Ott family set up shop here in 1956 and family members are still involved today though it is owned and managed by Champagne Louis Roederer. We tasted their Rosé Coeur de Grain which is comprised of 55% Mourvedre, 30% Cinsault and 15% Grenache. In addition to the expected berry flavors, this wine had a distinct fresh peach character. It was refreshing and fruity with good acidity and a bit more body than some of the Cote de Provence Roses we had been enjoying. It also seemed to have a bit more minerality. As it was approaching lunch time, we headed outside to look over the estate and vineyards before going to eat. The grounds are absolutely beautiful with the seemingly endless rows of vines and olive trees. The building dates back to the 18th century.

We went into La Cadiere d' Azur, a medieval village, located in the heart of the Bandol wine country. After a bit of sight seeing, we sat down at Restaurant L' Arlequin to have a pizza, seemingly a staple food group along the coast. My husband and I were talking when I noticed the couple next to us blatantly eavesdropping. After a bit of laughter, we all got to talking. They were local and they were very interested in our take on their beautiful country. We ended up sharing a bottle of 2010 Chateau de La Noblesse Rosé with them over lunch. This was a wine that they chose so it was interesting to see what the residents of Bandol would pick to have with their meal. The wine was tasty and we had a lovely time. She shared many ideas on what we should do when we returned to Bandol for our next visit.

After lunch, we did our tour of Domaine La Suffrene which I wrote about in my prior post. After we left there, we decided to just go to one more winery, Domaine Le Galantin. The Pascal family started this winery and continues to run it with daughter Celine now in charge. While the facility was not as much of a showplace as the other two that we had visited, the vineyards are organically farmed on clay and sandy soil on old restanque terraces and the winery has been modernized. There seemed to be a continuous stream of locals coming in to purchase wine while we there. We tasted their 2011 Rosé and two different bottles of red wine, the 2009 and the 2000. Again, the Rosé was more full bodied, it was crisp with a fresh berry character. The reds seemed to have more of the savory, meaty character, particularly the 2000 which was made by Celine's father, Achille.

Overall, we enjoyed our day in Bandol and left realizing that we had not see or tasted nearly enough. There does seem to be a basic similarity to the wines that gives you a sense of the place from which they came. They are not producing anonymous wines that could be from anywhere, the uncommon grapes and the terroir driven style make for wines that are uniquely Bandol. I am looking forward to trying some of the red wines that we purchased many years down the road to see them at their best.

We were back in Cannes in time for our dinner reservation at Gaston Gastounette looking out over the harbor. We ordered the one bottle of Bandol Rosé that was on the menu to enjoy while we talked about our day and what we would do on our next trip. Salut!

Related posts:
Wine in Provence

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Day in Bandol - Domaine La Suffrene

During our recent vacation on the French Riviera, my husband and I decided to rent a car and drive to Bandol which is located about an hour down the coast from where we were staying in Cannes. Bandol is one of Provence's oldest wine growing regions and is considered by many to be the most important AOC in the area especially when looking at the Mourvedre-based red wines. The region is known for its terraced vineyards called restanques built from the local river stone. The climate is Mediterranean as the region lies close  to the sea with long sunlight hours. The Mistral winds and mountain breezes protect the grapes from rot and cool things down at night.

I was interested in visiting Domaine La Suffrene as it is very available in the Houston market. Winemaker Cedric Gravier took over his grandfather's business in 1996 and when he heard that I was in town, he was kind enough to show up himself to taste with me and give me a tour of his winery and cellars. Domaine La Suffrene is one of the top five producers in Bandol.

The vineyard area has approximately 125 acres between La Cadiere d'Azur and Castellet with a majority of old vine Mourvedre, Grenache and Cinsault though he also has small amounts of Carignan and Syrah as well as some young vine Clairette and Ugni Blanc. The soils in his vineyard are comprised of sand, silt, limestone chalk and clay. Cedric was expecting harvest to begin in September based on the current state of the maturity of his grapes. All the grapes are hand harvested in bunches and then are sorted twice, once in the trailer and again at the wine cellar.

We tasted the 2011 Blanc first which is 75% Clairette and 25% Ugni Blanc. The vinification method involves low temperature fermentation with grape skin maceration and the blocking of malo-lactic fermentation. This technique creates a smooth, yet crisp mineral driven white wine with a light herbal character. 

The 2011 Rosé was up next which is a blend of 40% Mourvedre, 30% Cinsault, 20% Grenache and 10 % Carignan. This was a fuller body Rosé with nice acidity and flavors of fresh berries and apricot. We followed this with his special selection 2007 Rosé "Cuvée Sainte Catherine". This wine is only made in certain years and is a blend of 95% Mourvedre and 5% Carignan. Almost five years old, it was a bit more structured with significantly less fruit, more minerality and a bit more earthy character than the prior wine. 

We then tasted through a few vintages of the Rouge starting with the current 2009 release then going back in time through 2006 and 2003. The blend was made up of 55% Mourvedre, 20% Grenache, 15% Cinsault and 10% Carignan which is aged for 18 months in large old oak barrels without fining or filtering. The result is a firmly structured, rich, spicy, ripe black fruit flavored wine with a light earthy character. Cedric also poured his special Rouge the 2009 "Cuvée Les Lauves" followed by the 2000 vintage allowing us again to see how his wines progress over time. The blend on the Rouge Cuvée is 95% Mourvedre and 5% Carignan which is also aged for at least 18 months in large old oak barrels and bottled without fining or filtering. These two wines showed heavier spice, licorice and a bit more of the earthy component.

The wines became smoother and more complex with an additional savory character as we journeyed back through past vintages yet still remained fresh and flavorful attesting to the age ability of Bandol's red wines. All of the wines were absolutely fantastic and some of the best of Bandol that I have tasted both during our vacation and here at home when compared to others I have found in the Houston market.

The winery/cellar is a modern air conditioned facility with temperature controlled stainless steel and concrete tanks for fermentation, an isothermal tank for debourbeage and numerous large oak barrels in a variety of ages for the maturation of the different wines.

Cedric's passion for what he is doing is undeniable and it is exciting to imagine the future of the wines of Domaine La Suffrene. This line of wines from Bandol is definitely worth seeking out in the Houston market.

Related post:
Tasting Provence

I will be writing more about Bandol in my next posting.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Tasting some Wines of Provence

My husband and I have recently returned from the French Riviera in Provence where we, of course, drank buckets of rose wine in between sight seeing, sun bathing and eating. We also sampled some of the local red and white. Despite all of my wine studies, I really had not had that many wines from Provence. It seems to be a somewhat overlooked region when it comes to the various wine classes and I admittedly had not sought out much of the wine on my own. 
I was on vacation so I didn't spend my time writing up tasting notes but I did try to take pictures of the different bottles that we liked or make a note of what we drank. Originally, I was not intending on writing up this portion of my trip in regards to the wine. We did spend some time in Bandol and I will be writing that region up more in depth in my next posting. My husband is not one to get all geeked up at the thought of pink wine so it was interesting to see how quickly he got on board with all the rose drinking moving rapidly from "It's not that bad" to "This is pretty good" to "I wonder if they have this in Houston." 
Of course, when you are lying on Nikki Beach in St Tropez and eating fresh seafood at La Plage des Jumeaux, the scenery and the food take center stage and I actually forgot to make a note of what we drank on that day though I do remember that it was pink and that I thoroughly enjoyed it. I believe it was Chateau Minuty which was a wine that seemed to make it onto many wine lists.
A majority of the wines that we tried were from the Cotes de Provence AOC which is the largest appellation in Provence covering about 50,000 acres. Due to its size, it is fairly diverse as far as soils and climate as some of the vineyard area is close to the coast and some is further inland. This appellation produces the majority of Provencal wine. White wine is made primarily from Clairette, Rolle and Ugni Blanc. Red and Rose are blends comprised of Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Tibouren and Syrah.
. After spending the morning sightseeing around Monaco, we stopped in at little cafe near the Prince's Palace to have some local seafood and this was the rose that our waiter recommended. We were getting hot and we had been walking all morning and we found it to be very refreshing. I later learned from some fellow travelers that the La Chapelle de Sainte Roseline Rose comes from a winery that is located at a former abbey which is surrounded by vineyards. They thought they were doing a winery tour and tasting which was a small part of their excursion but the highlight of the tour turned out to be seeing the exhumed intact body of Saint Roseline on display who died in 1329. Their tour may not have been all they expected but we enjoyed the wine. It is one of only eighteen estates that is classified as Cru Classe.

That evening we had dinner in Cannes at L'Auberge Provencale. We had both the white and the red from Chateau Hermitage St Pons. We had a glass of the white with our spring salad and a bit more of the red with our beef filet. I think we both enjoyed the red more than the white.

During our day at the beach in Cannes, I know we had Chateau Minuty Rose which is also one of the 18 Cru Classe wines. Interestingly, this wine was one that we were served several different times at lunch spots and patio bars in the evening but it is one which I apparently never took a picture of the label. I do know that we always enjoyed it. Another Cote de Provence rose that we enjoyed that I didn't take a picture of was the St. Julien d'Aille Cuvee Praetor.

One evening we had gone to dinner in Mougins, a medieval village just a short ride from Cannes, at La Brasserie de la Mediterranee where we tried one of the local specialties, John Dory fish fillets along with asparagus risotto, and we had both the red and white from Domaine Berthoulet.

After returning home, we opened a bottle of Chateau Miraval from the Coteaux Varois en Provence where the terroir is less variable in respect to the chalky limestone and clay soils found throughout. The variation is in the altitudes but on average it is at about 1,200 feet. It is surrounded by mountains that add a continental influence to the Mediterranean climate. It includes twenty-eight towns in the heart of Provence. The wines from this area are thought to be a bit more powerful with greater structure. I wasn't sure what to expect as this wine is also known as being "from the vineyards of Brad & Angelina". The American culture of celebrity worship is alive and well in Cannes. This bottle had been a gift not something that we chose but we absolutely enjoyed it while we looked through all of our vacation photos. 

Overall, we enjoyed everything that we tried of Provence from the unknown pink by the glass at a pizzeria at lunch to the Cru Classe bottles to our celebrity bottle back home. The rose common denominators- all dry with good acidity, each was very fresh (most was from the 2011 vintage) with flavors of fresh berry (some riper/some more tart) and some had a bit more spice while some had a bit of the herbal garrigue note (more noticeable in the reds).

In retrospect, maybe I should have taken more notes but as it was my first time on the French Riviera, I really was just enjoying indiscriminately soaking up the atmosphere and letting it impress upon every cell of my being so that when I think back upon my time there... I just feel warm sunshine with a pleasant breeze and a glass of cool rose in my hand with the sense of the hills behind me and the Mediterranean in front of me.
Au Revoir Cote d' Azur until we meet again.