Friday, January 30, 2009

Bandol Longue Garde

If you Google “longue garde,” you’ll come up with a long list of wines from Bandol that use the term as a cuvée name. If you translate it with your basic French pocket dictionary, you won’t come up with much of a surprise; it means “long guard.” Think of it, though, in the same context as you might “avant garde” – ground breaking, before its time – and you’ll have a better sense of what longue garde means in the wine lexicon of Bandol. Quite simply, it suggests a wine shat should be kept. It’s indicative of the time it can take to tame the structure of traditionally produced Bandol, to mellow the inherently sauvage character of Bandol’s native vine, Mourvèdre.

Bandol “Longue Garde,” Domaine Lafran-Veyrolles 1998
~$20 on release. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, PA.
Domaine Lafran-Veyrolles can be counted among the old guard in Bandol. An original member of the Syndicat des Anciens Vins de Bandol, an organization created in 1939 with the goal of raising the quality and cementing the reputation of Bandol, the estate still produces wines in what can be considered the traditional fashion. Their cuvée “Longue Garde” is very nearly pure Mourvèdre, about 95%, blended with only a small percentage of Grenache Noir. Following fermentation in temperature controlled tanks, it spends just shy of two years aging in old oak foudres.

A quick look at Lafran-Veyrolles’ website tells us they recommend keeping their “Longue Garde” (which they now call “Cuvée Spéciale”) for eight to twelve years.

I can still remember tasting the ‘98 when it first hit American shores somewhere around 2002. Tighter than a drum... it was all hard edges, lean and taut, tasting of not much more than dried leather and wild herbs. Friendly it was not. Potential, though, it did seem to have.

Six or seven years on, at a touch over ten years from the vintage, it’s now right in the sweet spot of the drinking window suggested by Lafran-Veyrolles. As is often the case with such recommendations though, the date range seems to have been low-balled. Yes, it’s drinking in a pretty sweet spot but it will easily go another 8-12 years and should continue to develop further interest along the way.

For now, it’s still plenty youthful but more open knit than when I last tasted it, with suppler tannins and a solid spine of acidity driving home dark, sinewy, spicy fruit. The nose is loaded with aromas of ink, garrigue, wild black fruit and a touch of blood and iron. Drinking and smelling it, I can somehow close my eyes and picture a horse running through the dry, windswept Provençal outback. Just about perfect for a pot of beef daube or braised lamb shanks, and a good thing to have kept for the long guard.


Mario da Roza said...

Thanks for reviewing this wine. Bandol remains to be one of the most undervalued regions in France. I'm torn on this one, part of me feels that it deserves the recognition; the other part hopes that it stays that way so the price tag won't fly off the roof.

David McDuff said...

Reviewing the wine was my pleasure, Mario. I'm with you as to the value of Bandol, although I'm of the opinion that it's not so much undervalued as it is priced exactly as it should be. In a world of ever escalating price tags, that does tend to look like undervaluation.

Mario da Roza said...

You are probably right. I have to admit that my perception has been skewed by the Bordeaux and Burgundy (even Rhone... the list goes on) releases over the past 5 years. I almost got knocked off my chair when I saw the $1000+ price tag for a bottle of of First Growth on en primeur. These kind of prices certainly makes a nice bottle of Bandol look cheap, probably why people are paying their due respect to wines from this region.
Keep up the good work! Hope to see some of your tastings on Wine Beagles soon :)

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