Château Salettes : elegant Bandol and surprising IGP wines

The French Provence is the world’s hotspot for rosé, and yet, its most interesting proponent is not very well known beyond wine illuminati. Situated about 50km east of Marseilles, the AOC Bandol produces rosé that has little to do with the rest of the Provence rosé, and that may very well be the reason of its place in the shadow. The first difference you will notice is the darker, salmon colored hue of the wine, that stands in stark contrast to those very pale rosés that have become the standard for many people. But more importantly, Bandol rosé has body and intensity. “Résolument gastronomique” is the way the Bandolais describe their rosé. The use of Mourvèdre lies at the heart of this very different style. While the minimum of this variety for the production of rosé is officially only 20%, many wineries use higher percentages of Mourvèdre. Its small, thick-skinned berries are responsible for that beguiling color, but is also rich in antioxidants, which explains why Bandol rosé has great aging potential. This is even much more the case for the AOC’s reds, where Mourvèdre minimally constitutes 50% of the blend. Also here, however, the percentage is often much higher, sometimes even reaching 95%.

Situated in the hills of La Cadière d’Azur, Château Salettes is a good starting point to discover Bandol. The flagship wines are obviously the AOC Bandol wines in red, rosé and white, but the range is quite diverse with IGP Méditerranée wines under the name Verdarail, and even a few low intervention wines labeled Haut Salettes.

“The whole range is officially certified organic since 2018”, explains Cécile Assante, who welcomes visitors at the Château. As everywhere in Bandol, Rosé is also here the main product. 2021 is the latest vintage on offer, but in April there was stell some 2019 available as well. “People always want the latest vintage”, sighs Cécile. “They think that rosé needs to be drunk fast, but Bandol rosé can age beautifully!” To illlustrate her point, Cécile pours a 2014 rosé, boasting a wonderfully complex nose with dried fruit and mild herbs. The palate is quite surprising as the wine is bone dry and still nicely fresh. “You need to tell the story of this wine to the people, and prepare them that this is something entirely different.” Few people will indeed deliberately age a rosé for so long, but this 2014 is a great example of what is possible with Bandol.

The 2019 rosé is a perfect bridge between the 2014 and 2021. While the 2019 is nowhere near the dried fruit of the 2014, there is a ripeness of fruit, “sucrosité” as Cécile calls it, that signals the evolution. The 2021, finally, is obviously the freshest of the three, with attractive aromas of citrus and peach, lively acidity and a bit of salinity in the finish.

Whereas Mourvèdre constitutes 37% of the blend for the Bandol rosé, it goes up to 75% for the Bandol rouge. While that may suggest strong and tannic wines, Château Salettes makes it reds with a nice balance between volume, power and elegance. Th 2018 is even remarkably accessible already now with fine aromatics of forest fruit. Rather medium than full bodied, this is a wine that boasts attractive fruit and ripe tannins. No hurry to drink this, but certainly enjoyable already now. The 2017 has similar aromatics, but on the palate everything goes up a notch : the intensity, the volume, and the structure. While the tannins are ripe and well managed, it is clear that the 2017 will outlive the 2018 by far. And yet, it also has a refined character that sets the reds of Salettes apart from other Bandol estates that make more robust wines, such as Gros Noré or Gaussen. Even the Cayenne, the top wine of Salettes, which is made of 95% Mourvèdre, is not the beast you would expect. Quite the contrary even. It was not available to taste at the Château, but the 2013 miraculously found its way to the blind tasting table a few weeks later. And the guesses ranged from Burgundy to aged Bordeaux, again perfectly illustrating the elegant style of this winery.

A special mention needs to be made for some of the IGP wines of Château Salettes. The Verdarail rouge, for example, is a wine made of Carignan. While that grape variety only plays a supporting role, at best, in the AOC Bandol, it is the star of the Verdarail 2021. This is a very aromatic wine, with cherries, cherry pith, lively acidity, and lots of juicy, ripe fruit. This is an entry-level wine in the line-up of the estate, but let that be no reason to ignore is, as it is simply delightful when slightly chilled and the sun is out.

A final word for the equally very drinkable and yet very different Haut Salettes rouge 2020, which is very expressive, with fresh red fruit and a slightly wild touch. Although there is 60% of Mourvèdre in here, the 30% Counoise and the 10% Rolle (perhaps better known as Vermentino, a white grape variety!) make this a decidedly light, fruity and fresh charmer that is even reminiscent of some the natural Beaujolais that is made much further up north. So should you visit this Château, do not stop after the Bandols, as there is plenty to discover and enjoy here.

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