Bandol: Provence’s Best Kept Secret


Nor should Bandol’s privileged location contribute to its relative anonymity. There’s something magical about Provence that has inspired authors and artists for centuries. Whether through Mayle’s vivid pen or Cezanne’s vibrant brush, Southern France reveals herself as sun-soaked but sea-cool, floral but arid, glamorous but simple—a generous enigma. Lavender fields, Roman ruins, and olive trees loom large in classic descriptions of Provence’s iconic landscape, but strangely missing from such sketches is much mention of one of the region’s oldest industries—wine. One might forgive the lack of attention given to Provencal appellations with less gravitas, such as Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, Palette, Côtes de Provence and Bellet (though these regions merit a good bit more attention that they generally get, for reasons I hope to address in future columns). By contrast, the anonymity that cloaks Bandol can be chalked up to nothing but neglect, since its quality and pedigree far outstrip its neighbors and, when in true form, approach that of its Bordelais and Burgundian countrymen.

Then again, perhaps our Provencal and Provencophile friends purposefully “forget” to mention Bandol when regaling us of the virtues of the Côte d’Azur, hoping we might unwittingly blip past the spectacular hillside vineyards of le Beausset and le Castellet while zipping from bouillabaisse in Marseille to casinos in Monte Carlo. Having tasted Bandol, I can hardly blame them. If you had your pick of noble wine at a fraction of the price of Burgundy, Barolo or Brunello, you’d keep it quiet too.

Bandol at a Glance

Location: Provence, France (between Marseille and Toulon)
Size: 1,500 hectares (≈3,750 acres) of vineyards
Production: 60,000 cases per vintage
Principle grapes: mourvèdre (at least 51% in reds), cinsault, grenache
Recommended vintages: 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005 (rosés)
Recommended winemakers: Dom. Tempier, Ch. du Pibanon, Ch. Pradeaux, Dom. Bunan, Ch. de la Rouvière, Dom. de la Tour du Bon, Dom. de Terrebrune
Food pairings: Provencal cuisine fixed with spices, garlic, rosemary, olives, tomatoes; grilled lamb and other richly flavored red meats.
Where to find it: In the Bay Area—Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants, Paul Marcus Wines, K&L Wines, Vintage Berkeley; in Chicagoland—Binny’s Beverage Depot; Online--www.binnys.com, www.klwines.com
Price: $20-40

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This column, which runs monthly, explores the lesser known wine regions of France. Comments? Contact me at stemmanuel@gmail.com.

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.
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