When you think of Bandol wine, what comes to mind first? Rosé of course, ideally sipped on a yacht in the Mediterranean but best-in-class no matter what. Then there are the darkly powerful, garrigue-scented reds, which also capture the spirit of the place perfectly. Meanwhile, the whites languish in relative obscurity. But great terroir is great terroir. When the rare Bandol white makes an appearance, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
I speak from experience: The last time I visited Bandol was in the Spring of 2012, just before my Master Sommelier exam. And to this day, I think about the whites I discovered there as I visited cellars just a few miles from the sea; and in downtown Bandol, they were spectacular with oysters and other seafood in the seaside cafés along the Quai Charles de Gaulle. Today’s 2018 Le Galantin Bandol Blanc is a singular wine and it possesses not only a powerful Mediterranean imprint but has the intrigue and weighty complexity to become your new obsession. Richly fruited and structured but also racy, herbal and saline—as the best coastal whites always are—it will appeal to New World wine lovers because of its lush texture and Old World fans because of the freshness, energy, and tension. If you want to make yourself and a lot of your friends happy, don’t let this one pass you by!
You wouldn’t be at fault for now knowing about Bandol Blanc, which makes up maybe five percent of all the wines produced in the Bandol appellation. The few vintners crafting these beautifully unique whites leverage extremely old-vine Clairette, which delivers a healthy dollop of scrub-brushy garrigue aromas, balanced by the tart fruit and energy from Ugni Blanc grapes.
I recall visiting a host of classic producers like Domaine Tempier, Domaine de Terrebrune, and Pibarnon. And I was constantly struck by the serenity of their higher-elevation vineyard sites on impressively terraced hills above Bandol, with beautiful turquoise waters reflecting an intense amount of sunlight. On Le Plan du Castellet—the plateau above the village of Bandol—you see a lot of farms and a diverse landscape where the sea is visible from some, not all locations, and you’re never more than a few miles from the Mediterranean. With constant sunshine and constant wind, grapes achieve even ripening while retaining vivid acidity, and the proximity to the ocean imbues the local blancs with a real saline edge.
Domaine le Galantin encompasses some 30 hectares of organically farmed terraced vineyards surrounded by cypress and pine trees on Le Plan du Castellet (1.5 hectares is dedicated to white varieties). The winery itself is a mile east of the famous red wine producer Pibarnon and just a five-minute drive south of Domaine Tempier. Achille and Lillian Pascal have owned the land and made wine there for over 30 years. Today, their children Celine and Jerome oversee production, although both Achille and Lillian are still very active in the operation of the winery—on some of the hottest days last year, Achille, an octogenarian, was running along with all the workers, picking up baskets at the end of rows and carrying them along the steep slopes to the family tractor!
In the cellar, his daughter, Celine, has brought a serious focus to the winemaking, and the wines today possess a great clarity of aromas and flavors that truly call to mind the family’s terraced hillside vines, referred to locally as restanques, where 40+-year-old vines planted in clay and limestone soils receive an incredible amount of sunshine. It’s also an arid part of Bandol and these higher elevation vines benefit from Mediterranean breezes, which usher in a bit of welcome humidity.
Clairette 60%, Ugni Blanc 40%