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Alain Pascal’s white Citroën 4 x 4 bounces over dirt paths among the vineyards north of Bandol. “Garrigue,” he exclaims, inhaling deeply and tracing circles in the air with his potato-thick, soil-encrusted index finger. Garrigue is the perfumed shrub-land ecosystem that blankets these hills in thickets of wild lavender, thyme, marjoram, sage and other brambles. Right now, their aromatics are heightened by countless boughs of yellow broom flowers that whip through the open passenger-side window, slapping me in the face with more Provençal fragrance. 
 
Pascal is talking about how sensual this countryside is when he suddenly slams the brakes, sending his four lean hunting dogs sliding around comically in the back. He’s noticed a cherry tree covered in plump, ripe fruit. “Zou!” he hollers, Provençal for “Come on, let’s go!” We jump out and start feasting, the sweet-tart cherries tasting cool in the sun. “When I come up here,” he sighs, “I get so calm. You often hear nightingales.” He cocks his head and closes both eyes as melodious chirps reverberate through the treetops. 
 

Alain PascalWinemaker Alain Pascal, of Domaine du Gros'Noré, poses in front of a photo of himself and his father, who taught him the craft.  

This mix of rough and tender epitomizes Pascal – and the muscular yet silky wines he makes at Domaine du Gros’Noré. A stocky, strong-jawed former boxer who resembles Jean-Paul Belmondo crossed with a Columbo-era Peter Falk, Pascal is part of a Provence-wide movement of vintners making a return to tradition. Indeed, few wines today are as honest and unadorned as Pascal’s. Modern viticulture boasts an arsenal of factory-made yeasts, artificial enzymes, oak chips and chemical solutions – methods that yield homogeneity, creating a world of wines that taste identical, regardless of origin. But wines made by a passionate craftsperson like Pascal have a palpable sense of place. Tasting the terroir is what fuels wine lovers; the best way to understand this, I’m realizing, is by being in that place.
 
It’s nearly dinnertime. We head back to Pascal’s home, a stone and mortar bastide he built himself. On the kitchen counter rests an immense pan of mussels marinating in olive oil with garlic and fat stalks of freshly culled rosemary. Pascal uncorks his most recent vintage of rosé, which echoes the surrounding landscape’s resinous, stony, wildflower density. He grills the mussels over a fire of vine cuttings in the outdoor fireplace, then spit-roasts a couple of gilt-head breams (a.k.a. dorade royale) stuffed with wild fennel, basting them with branches of rosemary and thyme dipped into a jar of his homemade olive oil.
We down the fish with his rare Bandol blanc. (White wine accounts for only 5 percent of total production in this part of Provence.) With the main course – wild boar he hunted with his pointers – we drink various vintages of his deep-red Bandols, chimerical blends of rusticity and finesse. They recall the hillside’s dark essences: graphite and licorice, truffles and raw meat. And, yes, you can definitely taste the garrigue in there. 

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AGRITOURISM     FOOD & DRINK     FOODIE DESTINATION     FRANCE     PROVENCE     WINE     WINERIES    

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