Chateau Pibarnon

19 Dec

Chateau de Pibarnon

Bandol, France

We recently had a fantastic wine tasting and food pairing event that featured Chateau de Pibarnon wines. There were ten of us, going through two sets of four wines. Lori and I had visited Pibarnon and love their wines…and we had a seminar on their wines paired with food…see below for more on the visit and and Pibarnon


At the Seminar

At the Seminar


  • Mourvedre at its best
  •  8 wines

o   3 Rose vertical tasting + 1 Restanques (entry level red)

o   4 Red vertical tasting

  • 5 of the wines brought into MA for Pairings Wine and Food
  • Foods included: Gorgonzola, Anchoiade, Lamb Stew with Herbes de Provence and Ratatouille

Mourvedre: a powerful, dark, intense, leathery, spicy, earthy, black fruit wine that gets better and better with age.

The Bandol region of Provence is known for producing the best Mourvedre anywhere, which is used in both wonderful Rose’s and powerful, complex and age-worthy Red wines. Lori and Ray’s visit to Bandol was wonderful, with visits to several wineries, including Domain Tempier, made famous by Kermit Lynch in his book Merchants of the Wine Trade. Nevertheless, the family is no longer involved at Domain Tempier, and the visit was disappointing. At the other extreme, Chateau de Pibarnon is wonderful, a level above the others we visited. Notes from the trip are included below. These wines are age-worthy, changing over time, and the vertical tasting we had during our visit was awesome!  This event is a double vertical of roses and rouges, paired with foods characteristic of Provence.

Notes from Feb 28, 2011 visit to Chateau Pibarnon


 “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 from Paris to Marseille left early without us, the GPS got us lost trying to get through Marseille, then one road to Pibarnon was closed, and then a big truck blocked the way on the only 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 reds 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….


Both Marie and the wines are fascinating. She was born in Australia, trained in Burgundy and spent 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 Marie 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 contributes 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.


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 (which is in our line-up). 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 will have at the event.


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 (and is in our line-up), but could easily age another 15 years. It was earthy, with black licorice and nice fruit.


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


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 (in our line-up) was inky and powerful, earthy balance and long, which Marie would have with a stew (boar?). The 2004 (in our line-up) 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 several of the wines we’d had, as well different 100% Mourvedre’s 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 big powerful red wines. This wine is sold and drunk young, and usually not sold in the US.


After barrel tasting Marie asked if we had time to try the 2001 red (also in our line-up). 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. We noted this (and obtained this wine for the vertical of Pibarnon Mourvedres for this event).


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.


More Information and Reviews on Chateau de Pibarnon:


Since purchasing the estate in 1975, Comte Henri de Saint-Victor and family have been producing some of the most seductively aromatic and nobly structured wines in all of Southern France. Perched atop La Colline du Télégraphe in the northernmost part of the appellation, the château commands sweeping vistas of the amphitheater of vines known as the Théatre d’Epidaure, and beyond, the Mediterranean.

From the Wine Advocate: “Read as much as you like about the microclimate of a wine region; it is only when you feel it that you truly comprehend. The panoramic view of the entire Bandol amphitheater with its dramatic limestone outcrops is complemented by a cloudless sky, yet proprietor Eric de Saint-Victor informs me that beyond the protective Sainte-Baume mountains, it has been raining all week. No wonder Bandol enjoys 300 days of sunshine each year, no wonder it exists as a separate AOC from Provence, and no wonder its wines are hailed as the apogee of Mourvèdre.”

The restanques, or terraces were carved into the hill by the Saint-Victor clan in an effort to minimize erosion and maximize water absorption, which is of the utmost importance in a hot, dry terroir such as this one. It is important to note that the soil at Château de Pibarnon is unique, differing even from that of its neighbors further down the slope. As a result of a geological anomaly purported to have taken place at the end of the Mesozoic Era, Pibarnon’s soils contain large quantities of blue marl and limestone, as well as fossil material which is 150 million years older than that found in other parts of the appellation. The dearth of nutrition provided by these stony, fossil-studded soils ensures that the vines achieve maximum vigor through their daily struggle to survive.

Traditional gobelet training is practiced as well as green harvesting, which keeps yields down to an average of 35hl/ha. After 30%-50% de-stemming, vinification takes place in stainless steel vats. The wine is then transferred to large oak casks for élevage. While Pibarnon’s flagship cuvée is a classic vin de garde which can take as many as ten years to show its cards, ‘Les Restanques’, made with 70% Mourvèdre and 30% Grenache, is styled more for early drinking and approachability.


Château de Pibarnon 2005 The Mourvèdre is a very fragrant grape, producing wines of great depth, a rich colour and enormous complexity. It ripens late and performs best in the warm Mediterranean climate of Bandol. At Pibarnon, to ensure perfect maturity, the grapes are often picked 10 days later than is customary in Bandol. The upshot is a wine that compares favorably with great names from the more prestigious vineyards in France. When young, Pibarnon Rouge displays a massive floral bouquet with black cherries and spices. The firm acidity of the Mourvèdre gives good definition and a solid foundation for long term development. With time the wine mellows, exhibiting a harmonious elegance and wonderful heady flavours of truffles, wet leaves and cinnamon.


Wine Spectator

This intense and focused French red shows concentrated mineral, plum and dark cherry flavors that are flanked by tobacco box notes. Lithe yet powerful, with a long, elegant and finely chiseled finish of slate and white pepper. Drink now through 2015.

Score: 95. —Kim Marcus, May 31, 2009.


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