This picture pretty much sums it up: grapes, sunlight, and the Mediterranean. About a 35 minute drive east of Marseille, Bandol is an old resort town on the Côte d’Azur. It’s pretty low-key, as far as these things go — think sailboats rather than yachts moored in the harbor — although everyone we talked to down there told us that July and August get crazy. It’s the type of place where you can stroll down the main drag with a pan bagnat (tuna, olive, egg, and pepper sandwich drenched in olive oil) in hand, dodging tiny dogs underfoot, while waiting for the beachfront store selling Olympique Marseille soccer merchandise to open from its two-hour lunch break. In other words, my kind of town.
It’s also the town that gives its name to the white, rosé, and red wines that come from this region. The whites aren’t much to speak of, the rosés range from banal stuff aimed at unsuspecting tourists to some excellent (if pricey) wine, but it’s the reds that really shine. By law, they’re made from at least 50% Mourvèdre, a grape that can provide intensely flavored, full bodied wines that can age for 10 years or more. I had the chance to taste a bunch of them last week and two things struck me about these wines. First of all, at their best they’re incredibly aromatic: blackberries, dark cherries, leather, and a pleasantly gamey scent — like walking into a really good butcher shop (sorry, vegetarians). If you’ve had a lot of big Australian and Californian wines made from Mourvèdre or Syrah or Grenache, those aromas would be familiar to you. But here’s the second, and very cool, thing about Bandol: on the palate, these wines, while still packing a punch, have enough acidity and tannin to make them refreshing and structured. They’re also not over-the-top with alcohol, which, among other things, makes them a lot easier to taste at 11 in the morning on an 84-degree day.
And speaking of tasting, a great place to do that is at the Maison des Vins de Bandol. The very nice folks there will pour you some samples from several of the 52 properties that make up the Bandol appellation. Just make sure to get there before 1 pm, when they close for their two-hour lunch break.