Bandol: Provence’s Best Kept Secret

Challenge: Name what some have termed the five “noble wines” of France and Italy—those special regions whose depth, expression, tradition, and class have historically set the gold standard for distinguished wines and up-and-comers alike.

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Hint: They all begin with the letter “B.”
If you have a basic knowledge of the world of wine, you’ll quickly come up with the first two answers: Bordeaux and Burgundy, the most famous of French appellations and perhaps the best known wine regions on earth. If you know your stuff, it won’t take you long to decipher the next two: Italian powerhouses Barolo/Barbaresco and Brunello di Montalcino, the pride of Piedmont and Tuscany.

So far so good. But that’s only four. The fifth noble wine poses a greater challenge—one that may well stump even the savviest among us. But don’t despair: unless you’re a sommelier of some sophistication or, like me, you stumbled into dumb luck while vacationing in Provence, you’re not likely to have ever heard of a tiny seaside region called Bandol.

Nestled between Marseille and Toulon on the French Riviera, Bandol produces red wines of great power and depth. Bandol natives like to describe their wines as having aromas of leather, undergrowth, Havana, and minerality, with flavors of black fruit, eucalyptus, violet and liquorice when young and red fruit, Morello cherry, jam, spices, truffle and hummus when aged. While such precise specification may give rise to allegations of imaginative exaggeration, there’s no doubt that Bandol possesses a complexity and nuance of flavor shared by too few wines.

Characterized by cherry and blackberry flavors, an earthy (sometimes herby or feral) richness, a strong tannic structure, and plenty of pepper in its youth, Bandol’s voluptuous ripeness reflects its sun-baked terroir. The hilly region enjoys over 3,000 hours of sun per year, and the vineyards from which its red wine draws its grapes almost always face the sunny south.

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