When Elizabeth and I met Thierry in May, he arose from behind his tractor and greeted us with greasy hands. He has a six-hectare one-man show going on, and we knew he was busy, but he exuded warmth and hospitality from the get-go. Sometimes you know within 10 minutes that you've struck gold. And this was one of those times.
Farming in Bandol is not for city slickers. It's hard. Hot and dry in the summer; windy and cold during winter and shoulder seasons. You better bet that the reward needs to be high for a winery here. The work/quantity quotient is tiny. Thierry's six hectares yield him about 10000 bottles a year. To call this simply a labor of love sells it short.
I hope many of you have at least heard of Bandol. The reality is that this is among the top five WELL- KNOWN appellations in France, counted among others such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape, St. Emilion, and Hermitage. The finicky grape Mourvedre has its home here and with few exceptions has never been replicated elsewhere.
Bandol is what some might like to call "big red wine." And at Chretienne its also true. Yet Thierry's wines aren't overwhelming with mouth-numbing qualities like tannin and new oak. Instead, while opaque and succulent, they're also finely-tuned and complex. This 2013 is as good a Bandol as I've tasted in a decade.
And here is where my mouth starts to water. We asked Thierry where to go get bouillabaise for lunch, hungry for the classic Provencal fish stew and a slosh of Bandol rosé. He liked our idea but wagged his finger. "Drink the red instead," he directed.
He was smiling fiendishly, well aware I think, of this typical culinary conundrum that bedevils so many. And one that I've never quite understood in fact.
Here's the deal: Great wine goes with great food. Period. We never found our fish stew that day (you need to typically order a day in advance at the best places). Instead, we enjoyed fish en croute--local whitefish baked under a cap of fleur de sel and then cracked open and revealed by our server with a small wooden mallet. It was simple, pure, fresh, and sweet.
When I asked for a glass of Bandol rouge to go with the dish, the server looked around at all the pink wine on other tables and noddingly approved.