White Fortress

A new wine came in this week from Steven Plant at David Bowler wines, the 1998 La Bastide Blance Longue Garde Bandol. Unlike the 11 year old Brunello we had last week, this 10-year-old wine still had fruit left. It had a dusty black berry nose with tobacco, tea leaves and a little tar. It was just below full bodied, with a little fine sediment and ripe mature tannins. It wasn’t quite juicy, but not dried out with leather, and mineral on the palate. No oxidation. Here’s what Bowler has to say about the wines they had available (evidently I got one of the last three cases in the country):

We are very proud to offer a small amount of these great, traditional Bandol. This estate is considered to be among the top echelon of producers from this region and these wines come to you in stellar condition from their deep, cold cellars. The cuvee ‘Longue Garde’ is 75% Mourvedre 15% Grenache, and 10%Cinsault and is usually the most approachable of the three. The cuvee ‘Estagnol’ is 90%Mourvedre with 10% Grenache and is built for medium-long term term drinking. The top cuvee, ‘Fontanieu’, is the darkest, most brooding due in part to it’s 100% Mourvedre coming from the oldest vines in a parcel of that name. Grapes are hand-harvested, vineyards are farmed organically, wines are fermented with indigineous yeasts on grape skins, and aged in old wooden foudres.

What do we know about Bandol? From the OCW:

the most serious wine of Provence, typically a deep-flavoured, lush red blend dominated by the Mourvèdre grape. Like Châteauneuf-du-pape, Bandol produces quintessentially Mediterranean red wines which are easy to appreciate in youth despite their longevity.

The appellation is named after the port from which they were once shipped all over the world. Bandol is now a Mediterranean resort town with little to offer the wine tourist, and the vineyards are on south-facing terraces well inland called locally restanques. As in the smaller appellation of Cassis just along the coast, the vines are protected from the cold north winds, but have to fight property developers for their right to continued existence. A total of about 1,400 ha were cultivated in the early 2000s.

This particularly well-favoured southern corner is one of the few parts of France in which Mourvèdre, the characteristic grape of Bandol, can be relied upon to ripen. Other dark-berried varieties grown include Grenache and Cinsaut, much used for the local herby rosés which account for about one bottle of Bandol in three, together with strictly limited additions of Syrah and Carignan. A small quantity of white Bandol is made from Bourboulenc, Clairette, and Ugni Blanc with a maximum of 40 per cent Sauvignon Blanc, but little of it escapes the region’s fish restaurants.

Wine-making techniques are traditional but evolving. All reds must have at least 18 months in cask. Mechanical harvesting is banned. Domaine Tempier is one of the few domaines to have a well-established market outside France but the likes of Domaines de la Bégude and de la Tour du Bon, and Chx La Rouvière, Pibarnon, Pradeaux, and Vannières have all made fine wines.

1998 was a great year in the south of France, and Robert Parker liked this wine. (Thanks to the 89project, I’m now checking scores.) Here’s what he said in an October 2000 review:

Racheting up the level of concentration as well as tannin is the 1998 Bandol Cuvee Longue Garde. Fashioned from 85% Mourvedre and 15% old vine Grenache, with yields of approximately two tons of fruit per acre, it was aged in 80% foudre and 20% barrique. This spectacular offering reveals an opaque purple color, full body, mouth-searing tannin, awesome concentration, and tremendous power. It requires 5-7 years of cellaring, and should age for 25 years.

He gave it a 93. And he doesn’t list cinsault in the wine’s makeup. Hmm. I can’t find a website for the producer, which means white mini fortress by the way, so I’ll go with the cinsault.

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