(Title edited to reflect brodening of the theme from Bandol to Mourvèdre)
<table border="0" align="right" width="230"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics/bandol.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr><tr><td>The vineyards of Ste.-Anne in Bandol, so high up the mountainside that they're best reached by Jeep.
First, let's focus on wine: Our monthly feature takes on a scenic French appellation that I like to describe as "of my favorite wine regions that many wine enthusiasts never heard of:" Bandol in Provence.
The village called Bandol, about an hour's drive east of Marseilles, is a small but typical seacoast resort town on the Cote d'Azur, full of resorts and cafes and traffic and a marina full of yachts. The wine region is just a few kilometers inland, but a different environment entirely, high up a range of craggy, chalky peaks a thousand meters above the coast.
These south-facing vineyards nestle in a natural amphitheater that opens to the sea while providing protection from the Rhone's cold Mistral wind, an excellent microclimate for vineyards that fosters long and full ripening. It's one of the most ancient wine-producing regions in France, said to date back to the Phoenicians in 500 B.C., even before Roman times.
Bandol is best known for its fine, ageworthy reds, which may be blended from Mourvèdre, Syrah and Cinsaut grapes, although è dominates. The laws of the appellation strictly limit yields, forbid the use of vines less than eight years old, and requiring that the red wines spend 18 months in oak, making Bandol one of the few French wine regions that does not merely permit oak aging but demands it.
The wines are excellent, but they're not cheap. For today's tasting I passed on a couple of single-vineyard bottlings from Domaine Tempier (one of the most highly regarded Bandol producers) that were marked at a cool $48 per bottle, in favor of a still spendy 2005 Bandol Rosé from Domaine du Gros Noré, a fine, pale wine that justifies its $19 price with a complex mix of fruit, herbs and subtle earth.
Everyone's welcome to participate in the monthly Wine Focus program, sharing tasting reports, asking questions and talking about Bandol. Simply click to the Wine Focus forum in our non-commercial WineLovers Discussion Group,
Over on our Netscape/CompuServe WineLovers Community, we'll take on a related topic in the monthly Wine of the Month program, inviting participants to taste, enjoy and discuss any wine made from the Mourvèdre grape variety (or the related Spanish Monastrell. The activity is online at Wine of the Month,