Chateau Pradeaux: New Wines, Old Spirit

Posted on Posted in Chateau Pradeaux, Rosenthal Wine Merchant News, RWM Contributor

One must search ever harder in the great viticultural regions of France these days to find examples of long and unbroken tradition. Market pressures and the conveniences of technology have lured so many growers, even in hallowed areas, to sculpt their wines more obsessively, to shorten their aging regimens, and to soften them up for early consumption. Sure, we have witnessed an encouraging shift back toward elegance, restraint, and classicism over the past decade—along with a “natural wine” movement that, despite its more extreme examples, seems at its core to be trying to reclaim a sort of pre-technological agrarian purity. But the elusive holy-grail producers—those who never bothered to modernize at all in the first place—are few and far between, and becoming rarer with each passing generation.

How fortunate are we, then, to have worked with a jewel such as Chateau Pradeaux in Bandol for so long now. Having been in the Portalis family since 1752, the estate is currently undergoing a passing of the torch from father Cyrille to son Etienne—the thirteenth and fourteenth generations of Portalis to run Pradeaux, respectively. By and large, producers in this beautiful Mediterranean appellation (arguably the greatest zone for the noble Mourvedre in the world) have fully embraced the aforementioned softening process, including ever higher proportions of juicy, low-tannin Grenache in recent years, reducing the length of barrel aging to the bare minimum, and steering their production toward rosé in response to a ravenous global market. At Pradeaux, however, the old ways are very much alive—and the haunting, atavistic wines that issue forth from their cellar every year count among the greatest expressions of terroir that we at Rosenthal Wine Merchant have the privilege to sell.

Pradeaux’s highly individual wines have built up an enormous following over the years. They provide something real and meaningful, even ancient-feeling, in a world of wine so subject to trend-hopping, pandering, and banality—and that meaning is something we as humans crave. Each vintage of Pradeaux’s mighty red wine sells out well before the next is ready, and their rosé is among our most beloved and in-demand offerings in the category. This January, however, we are excited to present alongside the arrival of the 2013 Bandol Rouge two completely new and unique wines from Chateau Pradeaux—wines that speak even more viscerally of the old ways, of the virtues of patience and tradition.

2013 Chateau Pradeaux Bandol Rouge
It says a lot about an estate when their “current release” is from a harvest over four years prior. Given that the Portalis clan never employs de-stemming, the wines—built nearly entirely on the back of the thick-skinned Mourvedre—do benefit from extended time in cask, which allows those ferocious young tannins to relent and soften a bit. Much is made of the tannic nature of young Pradeaux, but they are always honest tannins—derived from fruit and plant matter, not from force of extraction or the power of new oak. And, needless to say, it is precisely this firm structure which allows the wines to blossom into awe-inspiring cellar treasures with time. That said, this 2013 is exceptionally elegant for Pradeaux, with a downright gorgeous nose: lifted, pure notes of tobacco, garrigue, black cherry, and warm leather, delivered with explosiveness and precision simultaneously. The palate shows grip, but it is a firm handshake rather than a vise, and the tannins meld seamlessly into the attractive fruit on the relatively gentle and lengthy finish. This is one of the more beautiful young wines Chateau Pradeaux has ever released, and the fact that it was from a relatively difficult growing season only emphasizes the family’s intuition and skill with this land they’ve worked for so very long.

2007 Chateau Pradeaux Bandol Rouge “X – 10 ans d’elevage
Even a producer you’ve visited hundreds of times before can sometimes cough forth a real surprise… During our visit at Pradeaux last spring, Etienne darted away to a far corner of the cellar and returned with a pitcher of something he refused to identify. Our eyes all widened upon nosing it: what was this wild, iron-drenched beast rising from our glasses? Etienne smiled wryly as we ventured a few guesses, but mostly scratched our heads. Apparently, way back when they were assembling the great 2007 Bandol Rouge, there was one stubborn 45-hectoliter foudre that tasted fine on its own but simply wouldn’t play well with the others in any blend permutation. Not sure what to do with it, Cyrille and Etienne simply let it rest—and rest, and rest. And that’s what we were tasting: a cask of Bandol from an epic vintage that had spent over nine years in barrel, developing a depth and intensity of character rare even for Pradeaux. We told Etienne on the spot we’d take all they had, and together we came up with a plan to release the wine as a special bottling—a Rosenthal Wine Merchant exclusive (save for the handful of cases they’re understandably saving for their own personal consumption), in celebration of our 35 years of happy partnership.

Anyone who appreciates the feral, visceral nature of Pradeaux will revel in the “X”—a wine that, despite spending ten years in foudre, still feels youthful and vigorous, just beginning its doubtlessly near-immortal life. The aforementioned wild nose is both eager and brooding, a maelstrom of violets, unlit cigar, dried figs, and plums, all framed by an intense iron element. Super-concentrated on the palate (as befitting the quality of the vintage), its chewy tannins are just beginning to show mercy, and one can sense a secondary savory streak beginning to shine through the thick wall of fruit and spice. Clients often ask if we have any older Pradeaux for sale, and we are excited to be able to say that, yes, indeed we do—a new, old Pradeaux, and a one-of-a-kind that will surely not last long in our warehouse.

2016 Chateau Pradeaux Rosé “Vespree”
Let’s face it: most of the rosé produced in the world is merely a beverage—rushed through fermentation, tweaked as necessary with regard to hue, clarity, and structure, rushed into bottle, rushed into market, and slurped down before the leaves begin changing color. Even in Bandol, widely regarded as one of the greatest terroirs for rosé anywhere, and one which can produce strikingly age-able examples, the wines are generally bottled early and consumed before they’ve even recovered from bottle shock. As the popularity of a wine like Chateau Simone’s great, naturally fermented, long-foudre-aged rosé proves, however, an appreciative market does exist for rosé made in a more respectful and soulful manner—even if it costs a bit more than your average “poolside sipper”…

Pradeaux’s mighty Bandol Rosé has never been a simple quaffer, counting among our most serious offerings in the category for decades now and proving its longevity time and time again. In fact, when Neal first visited Chateau Pradeaux in 1984, Cyrille Portalis offered him a taste of his rosé: the 1980, which was still aging in oak foudre three and a half years after harvest. While that constitutes an extreme elevage for a rosé by any measure, the memory clung—and, in conversation with Cyrille and his son Etienne in the spring of 2016, an idea took shape: a special selection of Bandol Rosé, aged in barrels, and bottled significantly later than the basic version. In homage to Bandol’s noblest cepage, “Vespree”—a somewhat untranslatable French term referring to the deep pinkish hue of a clear sky as day fades to night—is 100% Mourvedre. Etienne aged half of it in a single six-hectoliter oak cask, and the other half in a concrete egg—an eye-grabbing vessel that promotes aeration, stabilizes temperature naturally, and allows the wine inside to flow continuously and smoothly. It was bottled in mid-September of 2017—after nearly a full year of elevage, and over six months later than the regular bottling—and it will finally reach our shores the last week of January.

“Vespree” presents a full, swaggering nose of quince paste, white pepper, and coarse-ground Indian spices, and the big, richly textured palate possesses a structural tension that heavily underlines its potential for aging—though it is fresh, tense, and very delicious right now. It is exceedingly difficult to find rosé of this caliber and character, even from Bandol—and, in a twist of irony, this wine which is so purely and deeply Bandol to its very core was denied appellation status on three separate occasions, and is thus labeled a “Vin de France.” But, in an appellation that has seen production shift from 70% red wine to 85% rosé over the years in response to market trends, this is perhaps more depressing than surprising. In any event, we are proud of the wine, and proud to work with such a courageous and iconoclastic family—and we know “Vespree” will delight those who appreciate Pradeaux’s ruggedly uncompromising sensibility.

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