The Bandol appellation is one of the most prominent of Provence, and probably considered the best internationally. Although at 2,700 acres it is not a small region, Bandol nonetheless is much smaller than Côtes de Provence and Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence. The Bandol appellation is centered around the village of the same name, but there are also vineyards in seven other neighboring villages. About 500,000 cases a year are produced, most of them red.
Made up mostly of Mourvèdre, the distinctive red wines need aging, and even after cellaring still show austere, highly powerful notes of black fruit, leather, and game. A number of factors combine to make Bandol's reds so potent. In addition, there are some whites and rosés produced; although they lack the distinctive flavoring of the reds, they can also be good.
One of Bandol's great advantages is its long history; although it was not made an appellation until 1941, Bandol has been growing wine nearly as long as France has, with proven instances of vineyards reaching back into the 600s or 500s B.C. Despite a number of wars throughout history and many other struggles, the wine was always maintained in the culture and today Bandol's history is one of its greatest assets.
Climate and Viticulture
Bandol is located in a nearly perfect area physically: limestone hills, located on terraces high above the Mediterranean sea. Climatically this location is perfect, but viticulturally it is problematic: the vines have to be harvested by hand, as mechanical harvesting would be impossible on the steep terraces. However, this "drawback" harms price, not quality; as a result, most Bandols are practically hand-crafted and this factor alone guarantees unique flavors and good quality.
Mourvèdre is required to make up at least 50% of Bandol wines, but the percentage is often higher. The wines here are unique; the combination of the characteristics of Mourvèdre and of the appellation make for flavors rarely tasted in any other wines. Flavors include black currant, blackberry, and black cherry, as well as thick, earthy game and leather and warm, cooked aromas. These intriguing, smoky styles will often open up well with 10 years' aging, and should be ripe and mellow after 15-20.
Mourvèdre is often considered too tannic, so Grenache and Cinsaut are often blended in to some degree. Bourboulenc, Clairette, and Trebbiano are used in the rarely seen white wines of the appellation.
Here is a list of four producers whose Bandols are high-quality and are often exported outside France.
- La Bastide Blanche: The basic Bandol, which is an ultra-tannic, rich, dark example of the appellation, has terrific structure and underlying earthy, coffee-like scents, but needs time to develop. The rosé is more fun, with also intense but much lighter-bodied flavors of cherry fruit and minerality. These wines sell for around $25.
- Château de Pradeaux: Pradeaux is a very good producer here. Their basic Bandol is roasted, powerful, and still a rich, dry, tannic monster when drunk a few years in, but the intensity will morph into mellow, earthy complexity with age. The rosé is spicy and floral, with sweet flavors of red fruit. The cuvées are better: La Rosé Folle combines dark fruit and earth scents with rich, floral elements, in an uncommon mixture of flavor. The red cuvée is the world-class Longue Garde, which has knockout flavors of black fruit, smoke, tobacco, cinnamon, dark herbs, spices, and game, all in a roasted, dark style. This wine could age for a quarter of a century.
- Château de Pibarnon: The basic Bandol is good but expensive, with complex but very brutal aromas of black cooked fruit, brown spices, game, and smoke. More fruity and herbal, with peppery undercurrents, the rosé is more fun for immediate drinking. Cuvée Les Restanques de Pibarnon is higher-end and very good.
- Domaine Tempier: The floral, smoky rosé is highly acclaimed here, as is the red, but the cuvées are better. These are the very structured but floral, unique Cabassaou, the fruity, chocolaty, extraordinarily structured Migoua, and the powerfully smoky, black-fruit-laced Tourtine. All three are wines that deserve to be aged for a decade and a half.
Bandol is too small to have specifically designated subregions, and producers don't generally use shared vineyard names (lieux-dits).