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:

Bandol Rosés

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!)

Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé 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.

Bandol Rouge

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.

Domaine le Galantin Bandol Rouge 2007

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.