The Portalis family reserves their oldest vines for their flagship Bandol Rouge, and employs their younger plantings of Mourvèdre, complemented by splashes of Grenache and Cinsault, in the “Le Lys”—which we are excited to debut in the outstanding 2016 vintage.
Comprising 85% Mourvèdre, plus roughly 10% Grenache and 5% Cinsault, “Le Lys” is de-stemmed around 50%, in contrast to the old-vines cuvée which is always fermented entirely whole-cluster. Etienne employs de-stemming here not to craft an easy and-forward wine, however, but to preserve equilibrium in a cuvée whose younger and less substantially sappy fruit may threaten to be overwhelmed by stem tannins.
“Le Lys” spends two years in large oak casks rather than the appellation-outlying four years of the flagship red; it’s a long enough stint for its elements to harmonize beautifully, but the fruit remains ever so slightly juicier and more primary than in the old-vines Bandol Rouge.
This wine delivers plenty of leather and a thick wall of ultra-black fruit, and even if it is less imposingly built than the flagship wine, it is far more serious, authoritative, and layered wine than most of what the appellation produces—and it is unmistakably Pradeaux to its core.
There is the appellation of Bandol with its plethora of producers, some good, some mediocre; and then there is Château Pradeaux, the unique, inimitable, standard-bearer for this ancient wine-growing district. The Château Pradeaux is situated on the outskirts of the town of Saint Cyr-sur-Mer that lies directly on the Mediterranean Ocean between Toulon and Marseilles. The estate has been in the hands of the Portalis family since before the French Revolution. In fact, Jean-Marie-Etienne Portalis, who inherited the estate in 1752, helped draft the Napoleonic Code and assisted at the negotiation of the Concordat under Napoleon the First. The estate was devastated during the French Revolution and suffered the effects of the phylloxera epidemic in the 19th century. Suzanne Portalis and her daughter, Arlette, retreated to the domaine during World War II and undertook to revive the domaine. The domaine is currently under the direction of Cyrille Portalis, the sole direct descendant of Suzanne and Arlette. He continues to maintain the great traditions of this estate and is assisted by his wife, Magali, and now his two sons, Etienne and Edouard.The vineyards are cultivated in as natural a manner as possible with reliance on organic methods. In fact, for many years during the spring months sheep grazed in the vineyards thereby eliminating any need to use herbicides and at the same time providing a natural compost. The wines of Pradeaux are brooding and difficult. Produced on the back of the noble Mourvèdre, Pradeaux in its youthful stages is tannic, backward and sometimes ornery. The wines are not destemmed; élevage in large oak foudres can last as long as four years; vines of less than 25 years of age are not used for the reds.
Château Pradeaux Bandol is composed of no less than 95% Mourvèdre (old vines). The nose is a mix of honey and white flowers with a hint of animal fur; the color is ruby red; the fruit stains the palate and is lengthened by a near-perfect sense of roundness; the final attack is of ripe tannins that are dusty and sweet. Château Pradeaux “Cuvée Longue Garde” is born exclusively of the oldest Mourvèdre vines on the estate (average age 45 years). Extraordinarily dense, with black notes to the color, the “Longue Garde” is marked by a strong scent of Provençal herbs combined with smoked red meat. This is a complete wine with incredible length; the flavors remind one of macerated plums and black currants. The super-ripe tannins are powerful and in perfect balance with the high fruit extract. This is the wine for the ages.
Although the major part of the vineyards is planted to Mourvèdre, the Château Pradeaux Bandol Rosé is composed of Cinsault as well as Mourvèdre. After a short maceration on the skins, in order to extract a light color, the juice is fermented at low temperatures to retain freshness, fruit and bouquet. After being aged in cement cuves, the wine is normally bottled in late spring of the year following the harvest. It is one of the richest of the rosés of France, dry but full-bodied with a floral bouquet.