The 2019 Bandol Rosé from Domaine du Gros ’Noré just landed in Berkeley, and it’s one of the most expressive and mouth-watering we’ve tasted to date. Not surprising, considering winemaker Alain Pascal’s sole pursuit is to outdo himself one vintage to the next. Crisp and characterful, and loaded with Provençal complexity, his 2019 is a blend of squarely structured Mourvèdre, balanced with equal parts Cinsault, a more delicate variety, and fruit-forward Grenache. Alain was recently profiled during harvest for the major French news station TF1, and after seeing footage of his rigorous sorting practices, it’s easy to see why his rosé tastes so damn good. “It all depends on the raw material,” he says. “If we don’t have that, we can’t make a high-quality wine.” Standing atop his tractor amid a bounty of freshly-clipped Mourvèdre, he inspects each and every cluster. Grabbing one whole like a giant drumstick, he tears off a bite with his teeth and swishes the skins, seeds, and pulp as if it were already wine. He pauses in reflection, then spits vigorously into an imaginary spittoon. “Too acidic, we can’t use that bunch.” It’s August in Provence so Alain and his team pick before dawn to ensure the grapes remain cool. As the sun stretches up over the hills of La Cadiere d’Azur, he practices yet another quality control technique. Holding up a gorgeous, plump cluster of Mourvèdre to the first rays of light, Alain fixates on where the sun enters the translucent skin of some pinker-looking berries, then tosses it to the ground. “Not ripe enough,” he indicates. It seems crazy to reject so much decent fruit, especially for a mere rosé, but Alain isn’t one to settle, and this is no ordinary rosé. “As soon as my grapes enter the cellar, the wine is ninety percent complete. I am just there to accompany them.” Alain repeats the sunlight test with a different bunch, only this time a glowy halo appears, and every berry looks deep, dark, and densley purple. This one makes it to press. With such ripe fruit, how does Alain keep his rosé so refreshing? “I press gently, never over-extracting. I prefer to lose in quantity over quality, that’s how to preserve finesse.” The video ends with Alain checking on another parcel. One of his hunting dogs, trailing closely behind, devours some low-hanging fruit. Alain laughs, “Their palates are sharp, they won’t touch anything unripe. Yet another indication it’s the perfect time to harvest!”
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.
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