Agnès Henry’s northwestern slice of Bandol, beneath the medieval village of Le Castellet, does not have as much access to the Mediterranean’s cooling breezes as do other parts of the appellation, so it would be fair to be surprised by the impressive freshness and approachability on display here in her 2016 rouge. But Agnès (whose Bandols we started importing years ago after she approached Kermit at their kids’ school and asked him to taste her wines) is a talented, veteran vigneronne, and she is capable of bringing finesse to a wine that could otherwise be pure beast. It is still Bandol, made mostly of Mourvèdre, with some Grenache, Cinsault, and Carignan, and it is accordingly rustic, grippy, and chewy: almost a complex meal unto itself. But the notes that coat your palate—cocoa, earth, dark fruit, and spices—open up onto a lighter, welcoming side. Perhaps to make up for the smaller sea-breeze influence on her vines, she uses less Mourvèdre and more of the supporting grapes than do other Bandol producers, like Tempier, Gros ’Noré, and Terrebrune. Agnès says she adds around 25% Grenache to counter the Mourvèdre tannin, rusticity, and spice with some higher-toned notes, 5% Carignan for freshness, and 15% Cinsault to bind it all together harmoniously. Harmonious, indeed!
Domaine de la Tour du Bon rests atop a limestone plateau in the northwestern corner of the A.O.C. Bandol, nestled beneath the mountains to the North. It is a bastion of tranquility, a Mediterranean oasis surrounded by beautiful gardens and vineyards. The Hocquard family has been farming this land since 1968, situated at an altitude of 150 meters above sea-level. Fourteen hectares of red earth, clay, sand, and gravel rest upon sturdy limestone bedrock; brow-beating excavation and focused determination alone built these vineyards. Today, Agnès Henry runs the show. Independent, quick to laugh, and modest, Agnès has come into her own. Who better to make the wine than the person who knows the story of the land the best?
Perhaps there is no region more closely aligned with the history to Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant than Provence. Provence is where Richard Olney, an American ex-pat and friend of Alice Waters, lived, and introduced Kermit to the great producers of Provence, most importantly Domaine Tempier of Bandol. Kermit also spends upwards of half his year at his home in a small town just outside of Bandol.
Vitis vinifera first arrived in France via Provence, landing in the modern day port city of Marseille in the 6th century BC. The influence of terroir on Provençal wines goes well beyond soil types. The herbs from the pervasive scrubland, often referred to as garrigue, as well as the mistral—a cold, drying wind from the northwest that helps keep the vines free of disease—play a significant role in the final quality of the grapes. Two more elements—the seemingly ever-present sun and cooling saline breezes from the Mediterranean—lend their hand in creating a long growing season that result in grapes that are ripe but with good acidity.
Rosé is arguably the most well known type of wine from Provence, but the red wines, particularly from Bandol, possess a great depth of character and ability to age. The white wines of Cassis and Bandol offer complexity and ideal pairings for the sea-influenced cuisine. Mourvèdre reigns king for red grapes, and similar to the Languedoc and Rhône, Grenache, Cinsault, Marsanne, Clairette, Rolle, Ugni Blanc among many other grape varieties are planted.
Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant might even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.—Kermit Lynch
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