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There are certain wine appellations that are cursed by thriving tourism, and the sunny, Mediterranean region of Provence is one of them. Typically, quality goes to the wayside when you have a steady, reliable market for whatever wine made, whether good or not. Moreover, the region is really, really sunny (I think I said that already), so this is good for tourists, but bad for grapes, which can ripen too quickly for their own good, with lackluster flavors in the final wine.
But Bandol is one of the blessed exceptions. The vineyards (first planted by the Greeks in 600 BCE) are planted on south-facing slopes on rustic stone terraces called restanques where they are protected from cold northerly winds, but bathed in warm Mediterranean breezes. This is, in fact, the only French red wine region where Mourvèdre (pronounced muhr-VED-reh) dominates–because this grape actually needs all that glorious sunlight of this region in order to fully ripen; and any Bandol Rouge must have at least 50-95% to be classified as such (pink Bandol wines 20-95%). On its own, this unique variety is known for producing wildly rich, meaty and structured red wines, but it is often blended with Grenache, Cinsault (pronounced SAN-soh), Syrah or Carignan (CARE-in-yawn). The red wines must spend 18 months in oak before it is released.
Nota bene: this grape produces substantial wines, red or pink.
In fact, for restaurant-goers, Bandol Rouge is often a ‘steal’ on a wine list, compared to a Cabernet Sauvignon. Why? Because most consumers simply aren’t familiar with its key grape, Mourvèdre, or the region. But this makes one of the finest French reds in France, and is also responsible for some of the best, most layered rosés.
So as far as pairing food with a Bandol Rouge, think savage and meaty. Steak is a no-brainer, roasted pork, or hearty stews or casseroles work very well, but rich cheeses such as Tete-du-Moine from Switzerland, marked by delicious notes of beef consommé, or Pyrenees Agour, a full-flavored savory cheese from the Basque region of Spain. Bandols with some age can be quite a meditative experience without food.
Here are a few sampled recently:
Domaine le Galantin Bandol Rosé 2011
Medium salmon-pink in color, brimming with white peach and ‘wet stone’ minerality. Bright acidity and beautiful balance.
Château de Pibarnon Bandol Rosé 2010
Lovely aromatics with notes of ripe white peaches, orange rind and that classic ‘wet stone’ minerality. Lots of textural appeal as well (like the Tempier) and showing bright acidity and freshness. (Side note: not all rosés need to be 2011!)
Very aromatic, and more red berry/strawberry fruit than the Galantin, a little fuller and well-rounded, more glycerol and creaminess in the texture of this wine.
Domaine de la Tour du Bon Revôlution Bandol Rouge 2009
60% Mourvèdre, 30% Grenache, 10% Cinsault. This wine was the youngest sampled, but felt underripe. Along with the dark fruit and firm, coarse tannins, there were also a lot of vegetal notes (minty? Eucalyptus?) in this wine. 14% alcohol.
85% Mourvèdre, 15% old-vine Grenache. This wine showed darker fruit notes and much more density, balance than the Revôlution, along with black pepper spice, and firmer, finer tannins. More balance and beauty, and this wine will develop for another 5-10 years. 15% alcohol.
Chateau Saint-Anne 2005
60% Mourvèdre and 40% unstated. Along with darker fruit notes (fig, plum, dried fruit), this wines showed developing coffee and toffee notes, a hint of cola. Ready to drink, now or within 1-2 years.
Domaine du Gros Noré Bandol Rouge 2005
Deep garnet wine with enticing aromas of blackberry fruit, tar, earthiness and a hint of black pepper. This is a deeper, more brooding wine than the Domaine Saint-Annes (I would swear this wine is heavier on the Mourvèdre). Beautifully balanced with lots of concentration, this wine is full-bodied and sumptuous. This will easily age for another 5-8 years, perhaps longer.
While visiting one of my accounts last week, I stumbled upon one of the coolest cocktail gifts available (at least in the NY market): The Bitter Truth Cocktail Bitters Travelers Set.
And what exactly are bitters? Basically defined, a bitter is a base spirit flavored (infused) by something that imparts a bitter note or flavor to that spirit, be it root, vegetable, spice, seed or fruit. Depending on its alcohol strength (usually around 45%), it can be either served as an aperitif or digestive. Either way, it’s a must-have for anyone dabbling in the art of cocktails, although some are delicious on their own (such as Amaro, made from a mix of Italian herbs, roots, bark and orange peel). In short, bitters are your spice kit. They can intensify existing flavors or add that little ‘something special’ to a standard cocktail.
Almost all bitters originated for ‘medicinal’ purposes in the early nineteenth century, usually for help with digestion. Some of the most famous bitters are closely guarded family secrets, such as Angostura Bitters from Trinidad or Fernet Branca from Milan.
But I digress. This well-packaged traveling kit comes with five 20 ml bottles (probably just enough to help one endure a one-way trip to Japan or New Zealand!):
- Orange Bitters
- Old Time Aromatic Bitters
- Creole Bitters
- Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter Bitters
- Original Celery Bitters
Stay tuned as I dabble with each of these, cocktail reports to follow …
It happened this weekend when having a casual dinner with friends who had just returned from southern France. We nibbled on tomato salad, fennel salami, lentils and green beans, and a special treat, duck breast rolled with foie gras (smuggled back in their suitcase).
After depleting the first bottle, I then served a rather unusual sparkling red: Rocchi San Ginesio Vernaccia Nera Secco—a sparkling red from the Marche region of Italy. Yes, a sparkling red made in the exact same way as Prosecco but with the red grape variety of Vernaccia Nera.
On its own, it had a wild profile, and brimmed with overlapping notes of ripe blackberries, violets and spiciness (of the black pepper sort), but when tasted along with both the fennel salami, it reached new heights. In fact, the salami even became creamier as a result of the pairing… and the duck worked beautifully. Not only did the darker flavors mesh with the salami and duck breast, but the bubbles just added that extra something and cleansed the palate between bites at the same time. To put it simply, the sum was greater than the parts.
There are others like this wine that make excellent matches to charcuterie and meat-based antipasti dishes. The most famous by far is Lambrusco from Emilia-Romagna (not coincidentally considered the ‘stomach’ of Italy for its charcuterie) which is currently enjoying a sort of renaissance in premium restaurants, but such varieties Malbec, Barbera and Shiraz can also be found. If you see one in your favorite wine store, I highly recommend trying this at home.