Generating attention for the unheralded wine regions of the world Eric Asimov has recently written about Amontillado, Sicilian reds, and now Bandol. Exposing atypical wines and their regions to a worldwide readership, Asimov concedes that these wines might not be readily available at every local store; however, it’s gem estates like Domaine la Suffrene Bandol, that make every bottle worth seeking.
Located in Var, Domaine la Suffrene has been farmed by the Gravier family for multiple generations. Home to organically farmed 70-year-old Carignan and 50-year-old Mourvedre vines, la Suffrene is the only estate to own vines at ‘Les Lauves’, a 1ha parcel that resides at 300m, atop the hill that sits between the two mountain ranges of the Castellet: the Cadiere and Sainte Anne De Castellet. Here, south-facing and overlooking the Mediterranean you’ll find calcareous sandstone soils that are littered with shells and planted to 95% Mourvedre and a bit of Carignan, yielding age-worthy wines that are elegant and fresh. And while Bandol is certainly known for it’s ageable red wines that are sometimes also accessible in their youth, there are very few small-plot, old-vintage bottlings that are as generous on the palate as they are on the pocket, like Domaine la Suffrene ‘Les Lauves’.
“With his top cuvée, ‘Les Lauves’, I am very happy that Cedric has a deep library cellar of each vintage he’s made,” said Patrick Burke, our French Portfolio Director. “This wine is only made in great years, but is never worth opening right on release. It would be a shame to do that. With just a little patience, ‘Les Lauves’ demonstrates the true magic of Mourvedre. It becomes complex, earthy and jammy, with tannins that soften.” And because, as Asimov wrote: “good Bandol needs time,” the most recent ‘Les Lauves’ vintage that we have in stock is 2003. Accompanying aromas of concentrated fruit there are purple flowers, licorice and cherry, with accents of garrigue and bright acidity upholding tobacco leaf tannins.
Most oft celebrated for its rosé wines, which now total 70% of the region’s production, Bandol hasn’t yielded more red wines per vintage than rosé since 2003. And while winemakers like Cedric concede that “rosé [once] wasn’t a real wine, but now it is,” he does long to return to the days of old when red wines were favored. “We hope that the emphasis will switch so it becomes more balanced and we can reintegrate more red wines,” he added.
In addition to ‘Les Lauves’, Cedric crafts Domaine la Suffrene Bandol Rouge. And though the AOP requires that the Rouge contain the fruit of eight-year-old vines, Cedric chooses to wait until they are 15-20 years old.
Fermented with indigenous yeast, Cedric’s reds are aged for 18 months in oak. “We use big foudres because we’re not looking to impart flavors and tannins,” he said. And while the Bandol Rouge wines are wild, they’re accessible early-on, while also benefiting from a few additional years in the bottle, much like the Rosé. “Customers always want the freshest,” said Cedric in regards to rosé, but he also recommends giving the wine a little time to further develop its complexities.