S France 2 on to Bandol

3 Mar

Feb 28, 2010

“On to Bandol”

We love classic dry roses, which Provence, and Bandol in particular, is known for. Even better arguably the best Mourvedre (also known as Monastrell in Spain) in the world comes from this area. Mourvedre is a powerful, dark, intense, spicy, earthy, black fruit wine that gets better and better with age. We missed Bando on our last trip to Southern France, so made it a point to start here this time before heading north to the Rhone Valley…and are glad we did.

Chateau Pibarnon was awesome, a welcome change from what felt like a very long day. We’d had only a couple hours sleep, the connecting flight to Marseille leaving early without us, the GPS getting us lost trying to get through Marseille (really, it was the GPS, which can’t do well with road construction), then a road closure on the route to Pibarnon, and then a big truck blocking the way on the alternate route to the Chateau. Then everything changed:

The route up to Chateau Pibarnon is long and twisting along narrow roads, with occasional views east and west, and the views from Pibarnon are impressive (see pictures). However, the most impressive was the visit with Marie Laroze, the winemaker, and the wines themselves. Marie took us through a line-up of their Rose, two levels of red, a vertical of their top level red from five different years, then barrel tastings of all of these, a barrel tasting of their white, and a special brandy….whew…and I feel inadequate in describing the visit, but I’m going to try….

View from Pibarnon

Both Marie and the wines are fascinating. She was born in Australia, trained in Burgundy and spend some time making wine in Hungary before taking over at Pibarnon. She brings the sense of terroir changing the wine, even for small plots next to one another, that Burgundy is famous for. Pibarnon has 200 small plots of land, each handled individually, and most at high altitudes. A few years ago she experimented with including entire clumps of grapes to the winemaking process, without pressing them…she feels the entire grape, from the outside to the inside contribute in different ways to the wine, adding complexity. After experimenting with this in one barrel, the owner was so pleased with the results that this is now done with all the reds.

Marie and Lori during Barrel Tasting

This was the line-up

The 2009 rose is beautiful and long, more powerful than most rose’s, with the 2010 to be even more powerful. In addition to anchoiade (a garlic and anchovie dish which we’ve paired with rose’s), Marie suggested Roquefort or gorgonzola as a pairing, for their rose…which we hope to have back at the store.

Their Les Restangues de Pibarnon is their “second label”, with Mourvedre 60% and Grenache 40%, made to be a little more fruit forward and more ready to drink without aging (because of the Grenache). The 2006 was drinking well, but could easily age another 15 years. It was earthy, with black licorice and nice fruit.

Their “first label” read is mostly Mourvedre, 90-95% depending on the year, with the rest Grenache. The first one, the 2006, was luscious, with good spice, a beautiful texture, complex and drinking beautifully. Marie was pleased, even relieved, because just a couple weeks ago before she went to India, the wine had closed up and was hard to drink, she said, but now had re-opened. Marie is like a mother to her kids…sometimes not knowing what they’re going to do next, but stick with them and they turn out well in the end.

Lori and Ray at Pibarnon

Going through the various vintages was so much fun…each wine different and excellent in its own way…it became hard to find the vocabulary to adequately describe each wine…. It was more about the differences and how the different years might pair with different foods. The 2005 was inky and powerful, earthy balance and long, which Marie would have with a stew (boar?). The 2004 is more elegant and layered, with hints of black olive, which Marie would have with roast lamb.

We tried a 2007 which had been opened for a couple days, and it was young…and then a newly opened bottle was even more austere…would have to decant it to drink now…but better to cellar.

Marie then took us into the caves for a barrel tasting of essentially several of the wines we’d had, as well different 100% Mourvedre from the barrel, including one from the plot with the highest elevation, and Marie’s favorite…wow!

The final barrel tasting was of their white blend of traditional indigenous varietals (e.g.  Clairette and Ugni Blanc), which had luscious fruit while with good body. Surprisingly, it worked well after the bid powerful red wines. This wine is sold and drunk young, and usually not sold in the US (we’ll check on that…another Pairings excusive?).

After barrel tasting Marie asked if we had time to try the 2001 red. Well duhhhh…what can I say…mint, eucalyptus, orange peel, spice, tobacco….as Marie said…it makes her think of cold soil in a sunny place.

Because Mourvedre improves with age, Pibarnon keeps inventory of their wines from several vintages so they always can offer wine that’s good to drink now….They still have 10,000 bottles of 2001. I’m hoping to have a vertical of Pibarnon Mourvedres for a pairing at Pairings.

Finally, she offered a taste of their special brandy…the 1991 just being released….she poured a sample in 3 glasses, each with a different shape…a wine glass, an hour glass shape and a funnel shape…the nose is caustic from the wine glass, but nice from the other two…leading to much different sipping experiences…fun.

Next we stopped at Domaine du Gros Nore, which we’d read about and Marie had recommended. The is a “Kermit Lynch” wine, for those of you who know and respect him. Their rose is a classic…love it, with watermelon, strawberries, delicious and long…just what one expects from a fine Bandol rose. The two mourvedres were nice (a previous year was in the Wine Spectator top 100 wines), but Pibarnon is a tough act to follow.

Gros Nore


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