When you say Bandol, you say rosé wine. Bandol is the capital of the most prestigious French wines and especially French rosé. The Bandol wineries region, La Cadière-d’Azur, is the only wine region in the world that is dominated by the Mourvèdre grapes. My vacation in Bandol therefore had to include a tour past different vineyards and wineries. In fact, it’ll be hard to ignore them if you are driving around because they are literally everywhere. With my Sunny Cars rental car, packed with a picnic basket, I easily reached the countryside within a 20 minutes drives. When you take road D559B and D82 up north from Bandol and venture into the side- and backroads, you are surrounded by vineyards and ‘domaines’ as wineries are called in French. If you like, you can also book an organized tour with Bandol Wine Tours.
What makes Bandol wines so special?
From the village Le Castellet you have a magnificent view on the wineries that stretches until the sea. It is this sea climate and proximity to the sea that creates the perfect conditions to grow the Mourvèdre grapes. The Bandol soil, sea influence, winds, sheltering mountains and sun exposure enable the Mourvèdre bush to mature slower than others which gives the grapes their distinctive features. The rosés of Bandol are typically spicy and earthy although there are also a few fruity and elegant ones. However don’t limit yourself to the rosés because the white and red wines are equally good. Reds are typically deep-falvoured while the whites are often floral and less earthy than the rosés.
What makes Bandol wines so special is that they are the only wines in the world in which the Mourvèdre grapes dominate the wines with at least 50%. Other grapes included are Grenache and Cinsault. Bandol wines are under strict AOC regulations comprising regulations and quality guidelines about how to grow the bushes, how to harvest and how to produce the wines. For example, the plantation density must be of at least of 5,000 vines per hectare. Machine harvesting is forbidden. The grapes are picked by hand.
Touring the wine country
Touring the wine country is a splendid past-time in the afternoon. Expect an idyllic countryside with rolling hills, fragrant pine woods and hilltop limestone villages. Drive with your window open or stop regularly to take in the noisy crickets and breath in the air of the dark cypresses. Most of the domaines have perfect signage aside the road and a broad lane leading to the caves. Smaller domaines are sometimes hidden and require car navigation.
Domaine de Frégate
While most of the wineries are in the valley or on the slopes of the hills, the vineyard Domaine de Frégate perches on top of rocky headland. It is the only vineyard with vines literally overhanging the sea. Frégate is from an old provençal word “fregato” meaning breaking . It refers to smashing the rocks in order to plant the vines and olive trees. Legend has it also that a frigate/sailing ship (frégate in french) was shipwrecked on the rocks at the foot of the vineyard. A picture of a frigate appears on the label. Domaine de Frégate is a premium Provençal producer and is located only 10 minutes west of Bandol.
Maison des Vins de Bandol
It is undo-able to visit all the vineyards. At Maison des Vins de Bandol, you can buy and try all of the Bandol wines in one place. It’s like a wine library. The people there can tell you all about the different wines and make comparisons, they can advise you how to pair the wines or where to go next. From Maison des Vins de Bandol you also have gorgeous views of the vineyards.
Where to go
There are so many wineries that it can be a bit overwhelming. Best way to go is to alternate the larger ones with a few small ones so you can learn more about the differences. I like the smaller ones because the tours and tasting are more intimate and the winery is usually more picturesque. There are however also differences in the quality of the wines. Some of the best domaines are: Fregate, Ott, Pibarnon, La Rouvière, Souviou, La Suffrene, Tempier, Terrebrune, Tour du Bon and Le Gros Noré. (marked red on the map below)