The Real Deal
2014 BASTIDE CISELETTE – Bandol, France
The wine place Bandol overlooks the Mediterranean and plays host to – particularly – the Mourvèdre grape. It is that grape’s most fervent exponent, inspiring pretenders like Yours Truly to attempt a knock-off (Domaine des Plus-de-Vie is our local interpretation).
Perhaps you have come to embrace Bandol via the Domaine Tempier or Gros Noré productions brought to us by iconic importer Kermit Lynch. If so, you have taken an important, open-minded step into a wine realm where grumpy tannins and a more “chunky” form of fruit are the prevalent qualities. Bandol is not wine for the faint of heart, for it is in itself so full of Mediterranean “heart”; rustically endearing like some older, suspendered paysan with strong, gnarled hands and a leathery face that readily cracks a grin.
Yes, Bandol Rouge is an compelling collision between sun-drenched, Provencal ripeness and soil-derived gutsiness, for which you must prepare your palate and – most certainly – a great meal. This 80% Mourvèdre / 20% Grenache which saw only neutral, large format barrels (“foudre”) speaks with a gruff yet disarmingly Provençal voice of clay, raspberries, oregano, chocolate, and a shiny citric feature. That last ambivalent descriptor heralds Bandol’s vitality and durability. For many of its fans, wines like these can be held for more than a decade. That old paysan would insist on doing so, even if it’s for his kids to drink at his memorial.
Yours Truly recommends an alternative observation of the different eras this wine has to offer: One bottle per year (at the very least) with pork, lamb, or steak done over a wood fire. Grapevine cuttings are the classic fuel, if you can beg some off some old farmer!
Top producer. Top vintage. Greatness rolls downhill.
2015 DOMAINE GEORGES VERNAY ‘Sainte-Agathe’ – Cotes du Rhone, France
Last month we brought you a Gigondas, a Grenache-based red from the southern Rhone. That village name connotes nearly as much prestige as its neighbor Chateauneuf-du-Pape, as many of you know. “Cotes du Rhone” would typically be the lower-priced, less regarded wine in the company of those two “AOC” aristocrats. How is it, then, that we dare to submit a Cotes du Rhone costing MORE than last month’s Gigondas? Read on.
The Rhone Valley is actually represented by two very different sections. The Southern Rhone, home of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, etc., is Grenache Country, where Syrah and Mourvédre pitch in to make warm-hearted, red-fruited and garrigue-y wines. The undulating topography accommodates a lot of vineyard acreage. A tractor can work here, saving man hours. The Northern Rhone is a more distinct river gorge where far less land is available for planting, and the maintenance of the vines is a real pain in the ass. Its most famous sub-regions are Hermitage, Cornas, St. Joseph, and Cote Rotie; expensive and – to many wine geeks – worth the price. Up here Grenache and Mourvèdre are banished. Syrah has exclusivity, expressing itself with intense color, ethereal scents, complex flavors, and elegant textures rivaled only by the Red Burgundies grown farther north.
Now, “Cotes du Rhone” can come from the South OR the North, but most of what we see and sell is good, inexpensive southern stuffe. You drink it with pizza and burgers, and neighbors for whom you don’t reveal your more pricey bottles.
Much rarer northern Cotes du Rhone costs more because of the limited acreage and difficulty in farming, but compensates with “nearly Cote Rotie” exoticness. Cote Rotie and its northern high-rent peers will rarely if ever appear in your World Class Club pack due to budget constraints, but THIS rare and beautiful example of Northern Cotes du Rhone squeezes in. The 100% Syrah product of one of the area’s greatest producers, ‘Sainte-Agathe’ comes from vines just above Condrieu, a little northern Rhone neighborhood famous for Viognier. Besides making gorgeous Cote Rote, Domaine Georges Vernay is a Condrieu specialist (the winery itself resides there). We have a mere six bottles of that amazing trophy white heading our way, and we can discuss financing to assist your acquisition. - But in the meantime rejoice and revel in the fragrant glory of this beautiful Syrah from the greatest vintage in many years. Admire that deep color. Repeatedly take in the rich perfume of black olives, blue fruit compote, herbs, and graphite. Feel the meaty textures and savor the sappy fruit and cured meat flavors. . . . And, if it is on your list of permitted edibles, indulge in grilled lamb with this alongside. There is nothing quite like Northern Rhone Syrah, whether it be Cote Rotie, Cornas, or more humbly-appended “Cotes du Rhone”!