Bandol – Is it an AOC or a Buzzing Marina Town or Both?

A new day in Provence and we wondered what adventures we’d have ahead of us. I’d put together a hit list of the six best Domaines in the Bandol AOC but had the dilemma of knowing there was really only time to visit 3! So the day before I’d spoken with the wife of the proprietor of the hotel, the charming and charismatic Danielle Berard.

This lady although well into her golden years and crippled with arthritis manages to play the part of the perfect hostess by speaking to every guest at dinner despite her physical challenges. I’d met her the year before so took the opportunity of asking her which Domaines she considered the best. She recommended Lafran-Veyrolles and the Château du Pibarnon which added to the Bastide Blanche, that we’d visited yesterday added up to 3, which is the Magic Number as De La Soul would say! Incidentally a cheeky peek at La Carte du Vin at the Hostellerie Berard corroborated Danielle’s recommendations, with the 2013 Pibarnon already sold out!

After our essential cup of Clipper Teas English breakfast tea (something we take every time we travel abroad) we took a swift dash to the Vieux Four for strawberry compote turnover and a brioche roll filled with chocolate for breakfast.

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However, we thought we might have to redress the balance of last night’s excesses before embarking on breakfast by going for a 5K run.

Our route took us out of the village and out past the local Cadierean wine cooperative.

La Cadiere D'Azur

La Cadiere D’Azur

With the village watching over us like our coach from the grandstand we got into our pace and were rewarded with some stunning views of both the vines and the village.

The vineyards of Le Castellet from La Cadiere D'Azur

The vineyards of Le Castellet from La Cadiere D’Azur

Our finale was a cooling swim in the hotel pool before we tucked into our still warm pastries.

We phoned ahead to Lafran-Veyrolles and were told that we could visit before 12pm. As the clock in the car passed 11am we pulled into the unmade road that was the driveway to the Domaine. We were met by Castel an older Provençal gentleman who had worked at the Domaine for several decades.

Tim and Castel at Lafran-Veyrolles Degustion

Tim and Castel at Lafran-Veyrolles Degustion

Entirely in French he took us through a really comprehensive degustion with me acting as translator for Gillian.

We tasted their sensational white which is  made up of 80% Clairette and the rest Ugni Blanc. Fresh tasting with hints of apricot. We also tried their Rose a blend comprising 65% Mourvèdre, 25% Cinsault and 10% Grenache. This is the only Provençal Rose that I really like with its mandarine nose and fresh taste. The perfect summer aperitif with olives, anchovies, charcuterie and crudités. BOTH RECOMMENDED.

One of the really impressive things about many of the Bandol wines made by single Domaines is that there is a real movement towards achieving organic status. This is assisted in part by the warm climate and strong winds which keep the dreaded mildew and rot at bay. But also as one vinerogn said “when you put your name on the label it’s a statement of what you believe in unlike the anonymity of the cooperatif!”

Probably my favourite part of the tasting was the Reds.

Castel was in great humour and allowed me to try 5 of their reds as follows: It was also the first time I had the chance to directly compare 2 vintages from the same Domaine with both their young and old vine stock.

2012 Tradition. Vanilla and red fruits on the nose with flavours of raspberry and tayberry. A really young and fresh wine from 75% Mourvèdre, 10% Grenache, 10% Cinsault and 5% Carignan. Drinking now. RECOMMENDED.

2012 Cuvée Speciale (old vines). 95% Mourvèdre and just 5% Grenache. You can really taste the difference here with the old vines yielding much drier and tannic wine with flavours of blackberry and greater aging potential. Many of these single estate old vine reds have great ageing potential and keep for 10 plus years! They also represent great value at around £19 a bottle. Really one for laying down.

2011 Tradition. This younger brother of the 2012 Tradition is already drier and more tannic than the 2012 with the freshness of the younger fruit starting to diminish as the wine starts to mature.

2011 Cuvée Speciale (old vines). This Cuvée has a strong smell of blackcurrant on the nose which on tasting changes to a lower power fruit but with a much longer finish!

2006 Cuvée Speciale (old vines). This wine is a triumph! It has huge complexity yielded from the old vines from which it is produced. With still a slightly tannic note that will probably diminish further with ageing, it’s ready for drinking now with flavours of dried figs and dates. RECOMMENDED

Heady from the combined effects of the alcohol and the excitement of getting to visit Lafran-Veyrolles, I suggested a visit to Bandol, the unpretentious marina port

Bandol Marina

Bandol Marina

that also gives its name to the local Appelation. Parking the car with ease on the waterfront I suggested that we took the short ferry across to the Ile de Benedor. This island first came to our attention in the hugely entertaining Dial M for Merde by Stephen Clarke. However, we’d never actually been over to visit so seized the chance!

If you’re looking for a location with an exclusive and chic feel about it. If you want to recapture some of the classic French sixties glamour synonymous with French industrialist Paul Ricard then you need look no further than the Ile de Benedor just 300 metres by ferry from Bandol.

Monsieur Ricard bought the island back in the fifties along with the nearby Embiez islands to ensure the protection of local flora and fauna and probably to create a bit of space between him and the paparazzi!

If further evidence is required; one of the international kite marks of exclusivity is the red H for helicopter and this island, although only tiny has one flat area dedicated to this purpose, the other is a boules rink and tennis court! I love this order of priorities!

My recommendation would be the 4 Star Hotel Le Delos Stunning interiors as the photos show and with breathtaking views from the terrace over the bay to Bandol. It really is worth a nights stay. Whilst high season rates may be cause for a sharp intake of breath, mid to low season rates are much more affordable and all rates include the ferry crossing.

If you’re wondering how I can make this recommendation when this was our first visit, Gillian on a whim asked me check on availability for a night’s stay in a few days time! The very helpful Chaya on reception asked her boss for a 20% discount for us and arranged a second floor executive room with a harbour sea view and balcony! Enough of this; if you want to know more tune in to the hotel review in a few days time!

Buzzing from our slightly rash decision, we took a 20 minute stroll around the island and then spent a relaxing couple of hours on the sandy beach taking in a swim in the turquoise clear waters.

Beach on Ile de Benedor

Beach on Ile de Benedor

As the clock chimed 5pm we took the 10 minute return ferry back to Bandol and within 15 minutes we were back in La Cadiere D’Azur to enjoy another sunset picnic. We visited the Piment Vert, the Vieux Four and the local mini market to stock up on provisions for the picnic before getting in a quick swim in the hotel pool before setting up our picnic table in pole position for the sunset finale on the day!

Picnic Number 2; La Cadiere D'Azur

Picnic Number 2; La Cadiere D’Azur

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