Bandol Wines: Great Red Wines from Provence

Provence lies in the south east corner of France.  There are many famous wine regions within Provence, but none make better wines than Bandol.  Wine has been made in Bandol since the Phoenicians planted the first vines 2,500 years ago.

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The Romans also made wine here, shipping them from the nearby village of Bandol, from which the wine region took its name.  Bandol surely benefitted from being a port city.  The wines of Bandol were popular with the royal court in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Louis XV said they provided him with vital sap and wits.  Certainly much wine produced elsewhere was labeled as Bandol due to its fame.  The wines were available in far away ports such as Brazil and India as long ago as 1800.

The village of Bandol, traditionally a fishing village, is on the Mediterranean coast, east of Marseille.  Bandol is also the name of an AOC region created in 1941which covers eight communes.  The vines are inland in the hills between La Ciotat and Toulon running down to the sea.  Today, the AOC is restricted to this natural amphitheatre.  The vineyards are terraced into the hillsides making automated harvesting virtually impossible.  The soils are red clay and limestone.  The biggest danger to the region’s wines, however, is that the property is in demand for vacation homes which has driven up the cost and value of the vineyards. 

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Bandol is equally famous for its Rosés and its Reds.  I have previously discussed the Rosés here: Provence Rosés: a Summer Staple from Southern France.

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Bandol wines are based on the Mourvèdre grape, the only AOC region in France for which this is true.  This grape plays a small role in the southern Rhone but is the predominant grape here.  It is a very tannic grape with plenty of structure.  The red clay soils add to the tannic quality of the wines.  Mourvèdre also gives an animal quality to the wines.  It is a late ripening grape that is well suited to the warm Mediterranean climate.  By law the red (and rosé) wines must contain at least 50% Mourvèdre grapes.  Most producers tend to use a much higher amount.  The remainder may include Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah and Carignan.  The latter two can account for no more than 15 %in total and 10% individually.  Care must be taken to prevent the over ripening of the Grenache which would lead to roasted flavors and higher alcohols so it is often planted on the cooler north facing slopes.  Prior to release the wines must spend 18 months in oak.