Our visit on the last day of the trip with Etienne Portalis—the 14th successive generation at Chateau Pradeaux in Bandol—was uplifting and encouraging. Etienne is a smart, humorous young guy who clearly understands the uniquely old-school position Pradeaux holds within an appellation that has been modernizing and softening itself up over the past decade or so. Whereas growers in Bandol have gradually been taming the ferocity of their Mourvedre with higher proportions of Grenache, Pradeaux has maintained their Bandol Rouge at 95+% Mourvedre, and Etienne intends to keep it that way. And while many Bandol producers have been making more and more rosé in order to capitalize on its current popularity, Etienne has capped their rosé production in order to keep making notable quantities of their profound, endlessly age-able red wine each vintage.
Etienne also mentioned that he’s consciously trying to produce a more serious, structured, and age-able rosé. To that end, the 2016 Bandol Rosé is certainly an impressive effort. 2016 ended up bearing very high-quality fruit, but yields were down almost 40%, and so, unfortunately, there’s far less rosé to be had than usual. Produced from 75% Mourvedre and 25% Cinsault, yields for the 2016 were barely 30 hectoliters per hectare. Produced via direct-press with no maceration and a bit of lees aging, it offers a rich, evocative nose of violets, blueberries, and sea salt. The palate is full and powerful, with plenty of acidity and a mineral-drenched, gently tannic finish. We have had many experiences over the years with Pradeaux Rosé after a few years of bottle age, and this 2016 will undoubtedly evolve remarkably. Also in the works currently is an even more serious version of this wine—aged in a combination of cement egg and demi-muid, Etienne will leave it on the lees until early fall, and release it for sale in winter. It doesn’t even have an official name yet, but it will likely be called—fittingly—“Patience”…
Chateau Pradeaux also produces small quantities of a Cotes de Provence Rosé, and the 2016 is phenomenal. Made from 60% Mourvedre, 30% Cinsault, and 10% Grenache, from vineyards just outside Bandol proper, it smells of strawberry jam, black pepper, and nutmeg. The palate is broad and mouthfilling, with firm minerality and a complex, satisfying texture. It’s actually far closer to their Bandol rosé in spirit than it is to most commercial-tasting Cotes de Provence rosés, but it is nonetheless consciously a bit more easygoing and airy in its personality.