Tasting through the Vintages– Domaine la Suffrene
Visible from the vineyards, the Mediterranean shimmered in the distance while Cedric Gravier pointed to the terraced vineyards located at the top of the hill — “Les Lauves” — with its 1ha of 50- year-old Mourvedre vines planted to calcaraeous soils, from which only a single parcel is vinified to produce Domaine la Suffrene ‘Les Lauves’. A little later in the cellar at Domaine la Suffrene, as Cedric uncorked a sea of vintages ranging from 2011 to 1996, he said, “Everyone knows to age Chateauneuf du Pape and Bordeaux, but these wines are equally ageable.” And while Bandol is known for it’s age-worthy red wines that are also accessible in their youth, there are certainly very few small-plot, old-vintage bottlings that are as generous on the palate as they are on the pocket, like Domaine la Suffrene ‘Les Lauves’.
Since the Dm la Suffrene Bandol Rouge 2011 had just been bottled in May, a vintage that Cedric said is “one of the best vintages ever,” we started with 2010 for the Rouge and ‘Les Lauves’. Of the ‘Les Lauves’ 2011, which had yet to be bottled, Cedric said, “It’s exceptional for aging…a complete wine with good balance, good maturity [potential], and mature tannins that are elegant and not too strong or heavy.”
Speaking of the Rosé 2011, Cedric said, “Customers always want the freshest, but with Bandol the 2011 is ready for drinking.” Salmon-pink in color with strawberry and cherry fruit, and white pepper on the finish, the viscosity is slightly oily and rich. And though, Cedric offered, one might lose some of the fresh aromas, the compensation lies in the gained complexities on the palate.
Dm la Suffrene Bandol Rosé 2012 — A blend of 40% Mourvedre, 30% Cinsault, 20% Grenache and 10% Carignan, the 2012 Rosé was bottled just a few weeks before our visit. Paler in color than the 2011, with fresh acidity, minerality, peach blossoms, strawberry and peach flavors, of this wine Cedric said, “Bandol uses less Cinsault than Provence because it offers less color,” which results in the inclusion of more Mourvedre.
Dm la Suffrene Bandol Rouge 2010 — This is a blend of 55-60% Mourvedre, 20% Grenache, 15% Cinsault and 10% Carignan–from vines that are planted to calcareous clay. With fewer tannins than the 2009, and less alcohol, the 2010 offers ripe red and black berry fruit with leathery tannins and a touch of spice. Allowed by Bandol to use the fruit of four-year-old Mourvedre vines for the rosé, and the fruit of eight-year-old vines for the red, “We wait 15-20 years,” said Cedric.
Dm la Suffrene ‘Les Lauves’ 2010 — A blend of 90% Mourvedre (50-year-old vines) and 10% Carignan (70-year-old vines), from “soils that allow for good acidity,” the ‘Les Lauves’ is bigger in structure than the Rouge with more tannins. Savory and spicy with floral aromas, there’s ripe dark berry fruit here with a hint of smokiness on the nose. And though the tannins are structural, they are also silky and integrated, which helps lighten their grip.
Dm la Suffrene ‘Les Lauves’ 2009 — Of the 2009 vintage in Bandol, Andrew Jefford wrote in the Financial Times: “The 2009 vintage, meanwhile, was as uncomplicatedly generous here as everywhere else in France, with a cascade of supurb wines…fine 2009’s include…the almost essence-like La Suffrene Les Lauves.” Awarded the Medaille d’Or Paris in 2012, this vintage offers cooling herbs and very ripe, yet fresh, red and black berry fruit, accompanied by tannins with a light grip and a tough of licorice. “Mourvedre will, I believe,” writes Jefford, ” one day be seen as the grape variety of choice for the finest, warmest red wine sites in the south of France–for those who wish to make profound, age-worthy wine.”
Dm La Suffrene ‘Les Lauves’ 2006 — Though a warm and dry vintage, 2006 is one that Cedric considers exceptional, yielding a wine that is deep and rich with bright acidity, dark berry and cherry fruit. With leathery tannins and hints of cheese rind aromas, this is a wine that will continue its song for a number of years to come.
Dm la Suffrene ‘Les Lauves’ 2003 — From a super hot year that yielded concentrated fruit, the aromas of purple flowers, licorice and cherry, are accompanied by garrigue and acidity that’s alight and upholding tobacco tannins.
Dm la Suffrene ‘Les Lauves’ 1999 — Super fresh fruit and acidity with mid-palate anise, integrated tannins and notes of cooling herbs and mushroom, with a long finish.
Dm la Suffrene ‘Les Lauves’ 1996 — Cedric’s first vintage. Anise, mushrooms and bright cherry mid-palate, with tannins that melt in the mouth, and spice on the finish. The acidity provides freshness and balance, which wowed us, because though already drinking great, this one, in addition to all the others, will stand the test of time moving forward.
“Mourvedre can really age it,” said Cedric. But we know that his hand at farming and winemaking is what really allows for the varietal’s longevity in the bottle and its continued expression.