The year was 2002. I was on one of my annual tours, tasting through the vineyards in France and Italy with some of the most gifted wine-makers of this modern generation. My notebook was literally busting at the seams with tasting notes. Enough tasting notes to fill months of newsletters for you who may still remember those stories.
But one of the most exciting of my visits never made its way into those letters. That visit, though it left an indelible mark upon my palate that would never be matched, was with an estate which I would not be able to represent back in the States. For you see, this estate was already long-represented by another importer. Being the generous hosts they are, however, they agreed to host us. They had heard of my admiration for their wines.
This is Chateau Pibarnon. And as far back as the very first edition of Robert Parker’s Wine Buyer’s Guide, in 1989, this estate had been recognized as one the top 3 or 4 in all of Bandol. Bandol, that’s the region I’d like to talk with you about for just a moment.
There is a village within the appellation of Bandol called Cadiere d’Azur. And it is from within this wonderful little village, from the vantage point of my hotel window, at the Hotel Berard, that my breath was very nearly, literally, taken away. From this window, I could see the vineyards of Bandol. And from my dinning table, well, I thought I would never leave dinner that night — the views were even more breathtaking.
The vineyards of Bandol, Pibarnon’s to be specific, are beautifully planted in an amphitheater style, rising up the hill behind the Chateau. From my hotel window, and the vast restaurant window at dinner, this vineyard could be seen from miles away. I awaited my tasting with Count St-Victor with understandable excitement.
Bandol is indisputably the greatest red wine of Provence. That quote comes directly from a book called “Terroir” by James E. Wilson and the sentiment has been echoed by Parker, Tanzer and anyone who has professionally or casually tasted the wines of Provence. Based, by law, on a minimum of 50% Mourvedre, this wine has the potential to rival the most profound wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy for power allied to balance and longevity. And in the hands of Pibarnon’s wine-maker, I found this profundity.
What makes Pibarnon so stunning, so head and shoulders above the rest, is actually a combination of many things. This is — as our ability to view them from miles away will confirm — the highest vineyard in all of Bandol. Literally terraced into the hillsides at nearly a 1,000 feet, these sun-drenched Mourvedre vines — comprising an unusual 95% of the blend — are the healthiest in the entire region. Then we have their proximity to the sea. At only about 1.5 miles from the Mediterranean Sea, the sea breezes act to moderate the heat, allowing for a slow and even ripening of the grapes.
And there are so many other factors at play here, as well. And while I want to move right into the tasting notes, I feel it is very important to share with you, the serious wine folks out there, that Count St-Victor — Eric, as he humbly requested I call him — has worked at the most prominent Chateaux in Bordeaux to learn his trade. All of the wine-making at Pibarnon follows the traditions of the great Bordeaux Chateaux; gravity-fed vinification methods, de-stemming, aging in small barriques, slow, deep extractions, natural alcohol levels (Eric is not a fan of high alcohol wines) and no filtration. Why such attention to detail? Eric trained at Cheval Blanc and Angelus!
Precisely why this Chateau in Bandol is prized the world over and exactly why a recent vertical tasting now posted at Parker’s Wine Journal yielded these notes:
“This small vertical of Bandol Rouge from Château de Pibarnon demonstrated exactly why this name is revered not only in Bandol, but the whole of France. The reds are full-bodied, very concentrated, a little gamey and meaty in style with those “melted tannins” that make such masculine wines approachable after a decade or so cellaring. The prudent use of new oak barriques lends the wines a more polished, less rustic texture although they never dominate the tasting profile…
Tasting in reverse chronological order, the Bandol Rouge 2004 is a superb wine…I have added a “+” to indicate my conviction that it will blossom in years to come…The wine exemplified Eric’s judicious use of new oak, adding a little sophistication and cohesion whilst allowing the Mouvèdre and the terroir to express themselves…”
— from Parker’s Wine Advocate’s Site — The Wine Journal
2004 Chateau de Pibarnon Bandol Rouge
95% Mourvedre, 5% Grenache Dry Red Table Wine
Bandol, Provence, France
Review by Cepage Noir
E*Newsletter Winter 2009
“An Outstanding wine worth your serious attention that will impress and offer memorable drinking experiences.” CN
Drink: 2008 – 2018+
“Very nearly opaque purple. This wine was produced from yields of only 27 hl/ha — that’s only 1.8 tons per acre! The aromas will immediately entice the most serious oenophiles in the room; smells like a classified growth Bordeaux. Aromas of black currant, beautifully integrated, toasted oak, plums, an array of concentrated dark fruits and perfectly balanced alcohol. The initial palate presence is striking; power allied to precision. Bold and penetrating fruit of plums, currants and black cherries are combined with sweet tannins and nuances of toasted oak — the oak is truly integrated. This wine is walking that tightrope; there is power, structure, yet there is an unmistakable precision and balance as well. The fruit is perfectly ripe, the alcohol is never intrusive, the oak is deliciously integrated. And the finish goes on for more than 60 seconds. The tannins are very much here, but they are concealed by the wine’s wealth of fruit. This is not in any way overdone, this is world class juice that would stand up to any classed Bordeaux. As it was then, this is simply the finest Bandol money can buy.”
— Cepage Noir