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Bandol Our first day in France began on a very high note indeed, as we drove down from Italy's Langhe to the dark-blue Mediterranean, zipped along the Italian Riviera on the Autostrada, and slipped into France as easily (under the relaxed rules of the European Union) as driving from one state to another in the U.S. A few quick decisions ("What did that sign say!?" when the autoroute dropped us onto city streets in gritty Toulon, and suddenly we were in Provence, driving up a surprisingly steep and winding mountain road that quickly took us high into the heavily forested, chalky hills above the seacoast town of Bandol.

There, thanks to the intervention of U.S. importer Joe Dressner, we had booked a room in the brand-new B&B/guesthouse of Chateau Ste Anne, a small but first-rate producer owned by Françoise Dutheil de la Rocuère, a genuine (but thoroughly down-to-earth) noblewoman, a Marquise, who with her daughter, Marie, and winery staff, made us feel very much at home for an overnight visit.

Chateau Ste Anne's wines are produced entirely by "biodynamic" (organic) practices with no synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers in the vineyards, which are located just below the Bandol mountaintops (as seen in the photo above), protected from north winds by the mountain peak and slanted gently toward the full Mediterranean sun.

We tasted the wines under the most favorable possible circumstances - around the dinner table in the pleasant company of the family, enjoying an excellent dinner prepared by Marie - so fairness requires me to note that the following notes may be influenced by the happy social surroundings. (Which, after all, is what the enjoyment of wine is really all about.) Still, I firmly believe that these wines would pass muster by the most objective standard.

Chateau Ste Anne 1998 Bandol Blanc - Very pale greenish-gold in color, aromatic and rich. A blend of Clairette (50 percent), Ugni Blanc (45 percent) and Viognier (5 percent).

Chateau Ste Anne 1998 Bandol Rosé - Pretty salmon-copper color, with lovely herbal and berry fruit aromas. Crisp and bone-dry; delicious. Cinsaut (50 percent), Grenache (20 percent) and Mourvèdre (30 percent).

Chateau Ste Anne 1998 Bandol - Inky dark purple. Earthy dark Mourvèdre scents with aromatic garrigues: aromas of the soil and the fresh mountain air of Bandol. Mourvèdre (60 percent), Grenache (20 percent) and Cinsaut (20 percent).

Chateau Ste Anne 1998 Bandol Cuvee Vin de Collection - Opaque, black; plummy, herbal and earthy aromas. Mouth-filling, peppery flavors follow the nose. May be a little closed at this stage, but "closed" is a relative term - this is a big mouthful of wine. Mourvedre (98 percent) and Grenache (2 percent).

Chateau Ste Anne 1998 Bandol - Opaque blackish-purple. Black fruit and tarragon aromas and a hint of grilled meat. Flavors consistent with the nose, full and long. Mourvèdre (60 percent).

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All my wine-tasting reports are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores.

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