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Beast Wine: Bandol for the Winter Win



North of the sleepy coastal village of Bandol, tucked below the soaring ridges of exposed red earth and white stone that mark the high Provençal countryside, lives a man whose reputation in the wine world reads something like a litany of Chuck Norris jokes, except that instead of a winking irony the jokes turn on the astonishing fact of their claims being actually true.

His hands are as big as bear claws. His fireplace is the size of a hut. He masoned his own house, his own cellar, stone by stone. He hunts his food, cooks game at the scullery fire. You can very nearly imagine the man — a former boxer — bare to the waist dispatching venison from the bone.


When our own Will Motley visited the estate — Domaine du Gros 'Noré — Alain had that day killed a wild boar in the vineyard. I don't know for sure that a hilted dagger struck the fatal blow, but I have no trouble imagining it. By the time Will's party arrived in the afternoon to tipple and taste through a library of vintage wines, the boar was braising in a castiron stewpot, in said handbuilt stone fireplace — a meal the vigneron later served in accompaniment to his worthy reds.

And yet, despite the herculean mythologies that emanate from mas Pascal, Alain himself is gentle, frank, unpretentious, and terribly good at making wine. His mouvedre-heavy Bandol Rouge is one of the great examples of its type. Bestial, savage, unmoved by international trends and ratings systems that favor the comprehensible over the comprehensive, the effete over the wild.

So many wines that pass my lips seem concocted, self-conscious, and grossly overwrought. Think of Gros 'Noré as the opposite — a perfectly unglamorous wine. Humble, hungry, perched like a feral cat on the branch of an olive tree. Invisible to most, but for the few who know where to look, a thing of fierce and total beauty.

2013 offers all the romance I have come to expect from Gros 'Noré: as cutting as it is warm, ready to embrace but always with a knife in its boot. There is something approachable that distinguishes this vintage from the rest. The same creature, in a slightly better mood. And rather than feel out of place in a line of vintages each better than the last, it feels as if this gentle giant of a wine has reached some new and transitive height.

We have a case and a half in stock. Buy six and lay four in the cellar. Drink the other two with the one you love best. Toast the silence of the turning leaves. And if you're short on wild boar, a spicy pot roast will do fine.

Domaine du Gros 'Noré
Bandol, France
Mouvedre, Grenache, Cinsault

PS: the name Gros 'Noré is an homage to Alain's father, the grand (gros) Honoré Pascal.