Bandol: Here be giants



A walk to Bandol - Robert Nyman

The classic seaside town of Bandol, 20 miles to the east of Marseille, is a peaceful if touristy destination. But the terraced vineyards on the wooded hillsides behind the town are home to some fearsome beasts. When certain local grape varieties are grown in this crucible under the scorching Mediterranean sun the results can be staggering. This is the land of giants.

Over half the production here is red, based on the headstrong Mourvèdre grape. It creates towering red dragons of wines, rarely equalled in power and stature, thick with sinewy blackberry fruit, liquorice and earth. They can be drunk young, but the best last for 30 years or more. Drink them with red meat, preferably blackened and smoking.

A third of Bandol’s output is pink, built on a base of Mourvèdre, Grenache and Cinsault. Provence is renowned for its fine rosés, as pretty and gentle as songbirds. Bandol’s however are majestic flamingos – less delicate perhaps, but altogether more impressive. Though it retains an aromatic fruitiness, this is a full-bodied, delicious, statuesque rosé that can match powerful foods, even grilled red meats.

White Bandol is like the Yeti; rarely seen outside these pine-covered hills but an interesting creature if you can track it down. It gets its outsized proportions mostly from Clairette and Bourboulenc grapes, but the wine is more muscular than plump. Totally dry, it typically has aromas of citrus fruits, herbs and flowers, coupled with a weighty, flowing texture. It’s perfect with richer fish dishes.

As local land prices increase, these fabulous beasts are seeing their habitat gradually destroyed by housing developments. It’s a shame, as Bandol is home to some of the most characterful and intriguing wines of the South. They may not be the most subtle or refined, but they certainly make an impact.


Domaine La Suffrène Bandol Blanc 2013 (A&B Vintners, £13.95)

Big, broad and soft in texture, this silky white has subtle lemon, grapefruit pith and blossom aromas and a long, surprisingly powerful finish.

Domaine Lafran-Veyrolles Bandol Rosé 2013 (Waitrose, £14.99)

Scented fruits like strawberry, pear and peaches and cream for the nose, then full-bodied and rounded in the mouth. Big but not heavy and retains a sense of freshness.

Château Pibarnon Bandol Rouge 2008 (Caves de Pyrène, £32.49) 

Rich, thick and full of explosive, powerful flavours of berry fruits and meat. Packs a punch but retains a piercing brightness. Long, surging finish. An impressive, fiery monster of a wine.


First published in Living France magazine.

Image copyright Robert Nyman.