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Bandol's new star: Domaine du Gros' Noré

La Vigneronne tasting, 16 May 2001

Although Bandol produces the most serious red wines in Provence, it is still isn't a particularly well known appellation. And the chances are that if people have heard of Bandol, it’s the wines of Tempier (and perhaps also Pibarnon) that they are familiar with. But less well known Bandol producers are making some seriously good wines these days. One producer I'm keen on is Lafran-Veyrolles (particularly the cuvée Longue Garde), but the current rising star is probably Domaine Gros' Noré. Owner Alain Pascal has 16 ha of vines (some of which aren't in production yet) with an average age of 30 years, and the first official vintage was 1997. Prior to this his father worked the vineyards but never made his own wine -- a scenario repeated throughout many French wine regions. It was interesting to have the rare opportunity to try the 1997, 1998 and 1999 vintages of the reds, alongside an experimental cuvée from 1997 and a 1992 that was made for his own consumption: without doubt, quality has improved with each successive vintage, and the 1999 is the best yet -- a superb wine. I was a bit less keen on the white and the rosé: while these are nice enough wines, they don't really trip my switches, and they aren't cheap.

The wines
Mourvèdre is what Bandol is all about: an exciting grape variety when it is grown in climates warm enough for it to ripen fully, capable of producing meaty, spicy reds, often with a slightly 'animal' nature. Indeed, some people confuse the character of Bandol with wines affected by Brettanomyces (or 'brett' for short), which is a spoilage yeast commonly encountered in wines from the south of France. At low levels, brett isn't considered to be a fault and adds a bit of gamey complexity, but at higher levels the wines smell of animal poop and have a cheesy, farmyard character. I reckon I can tell the difference between the gaminess that stems from Mourvèdre grapes and that from mild brett contamination, but I may just be blagging here! Not all clones of Mourvèdre possess this animal nature though; others confer a leathery, cinnamon spice-like character. As well as Mourvèdre (80%), the Gros' Noré red also has a dash of Cinsault (15%) and old vine Carignan (5%). It is aged for 18 months in old 60 hl wooden barrels (foudres); there are no new barriques used here. The white wine is made from Ugni and Clairette, while the rosé is from Mourvèdre (40%), Grenache (20%) and Cinsault (40%). Overall, production is about 60 000 bottles, with 75% of this red, 20% rosé and just 5% white.

Bandol Blanc 2000
A pale wine, this is a bit shy on the nose. The palate is herby and nutty with a touch of citrus fruit, but it's a little bit neutral. Fresh and clean, and somewhat anonymous. May age nicely though. Good/very good (67 FF from the domaine)

Bandol Blanc 1999
There's a little more on the nose here, but it's still quite shy. The reasonably dense, herby palate shows a touch of citrus fruit. This is a nice, full flavoured white. Very good (67 FF from the domaine)

Bandol Rosé 2000
A pale salmon colour with an attractive nose of sweet strawberry fruit with some herbiness. The full, rounded herby palate shows some sweet fruit and creaminess. Quite a pretty wine with some real character. Very good (64 FF from the domaine; £10 from La Vigneronne)

Bandol Rosé 1998
A pale colour, this has a relatively muted nose, but the palate is quite full, with citrus and herb character, and rather low acidity. Nicely savoury, this has a pleasant texture. Good/very good (64 FF from the domaine; £10 from La Vigneronne)

Bandol Rouge 1999
A deep purple/red colour. I'm very taken with the intense nose, currently dominated by ripe, licqouricey fruit. The palate is tannic and powerful; savoury and dry. There's a great density of herby, olive-laced fruit. It's quite clean, but still packed with character. Excellent (80 FF from the domaine; £15 La Vigneronne)

Bandol Rouge 1998
Lovely nose with some lovely gamey Mourvèdre character coming through, together with some savoury, herby notes. Rich, dense, tannic palate displays complex, savoury flavours with a bit of funk, although I'm pretty sure it's not brett. Still very youthful. Excellent (£14.95 La Vigneronne)

Bandol Rouge 1997
The attractive nose shows herby/leathery notes with a bit of spice. The palate is lively and powerful with firm tannins and nice herbiness. Dry and savoury with just a touch of coarseness on the palate; it's chunky stuff with real concentration. Very good/excellent

Bandol Rouge 1997 Experimental cuvée
A small amount of the 1997 was made using a long maceration with the stalks and skins, together with a bit of barrique ageing. The result is interesting, but less appealing to my palate than the regular 1997. This wine was not released commercially. There's some sweet dusty wood on the nose, together with a nice herbiness, and some sweet fruit underneath. The concentrated palate is rich but suffers from dry, rasping tannins. The wood is quite prominent. Very good+

Bandol Rouge 1992
Still very deep in colour, the nose is quite deep and fruity, with some dry, spicy notes. The palate is now mature, with dry tannins, good concentration and a very savoury character. It's quite square and chunky. Not as good as the newer vintages. Very good

Contact details:
La Vigneronne, 105 Brompton Road, London SW7 3LE (3 minutes walk from South Kensington tube station)

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