If and when the term declassified “X” arises in a conversation with a salesman at your local wine merchant, listen. For a host of reasons (such as overproduction, brand protection, or subtle non-compliance with the norms of a higher appellation) wineries worldwide choose to bottle some very fine juice under the heading of a “lesser” classification, and these exigencies for the winemaker are always a bonus for the drinker.
This particular declassification has occurred within the small but very fine and peculiar French A.O.C. called Bandol, a region that sits on the sunny Mediterranean coast, fairly close to the Italian border. In these parts, the principal grape variety goes by the name Mourvedre but is also known as Mataro (primarily in California and Australia) and Monastrell along the southeastern Spanish coast which is almost surely the part of the globe from which this vine originally comes.
A bit further north of the Bandol region Mourvedre can make up a portion of another, even more famous French wine that goes by the name of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but even there in that very warm and sunny region, fully ripening this extremely late-maturing and heat-loving variety is dodgy enough that making a wine exclusively from it is just too unpredictable to count on it year in and year out. Underripe Mourvedre typically yields somewhat hard and unbalanced wines often with exceedingly funky “animal” aromas and flavors, but when raised in the most suitable sites, Mourvedre offers up deep, luscious, polished and complex wines that explode with earthy, dark fruit that cannot be replicated by any other grape variety that I know. And because good Bandol is never cheap, coming across a supposedly humble and simple Vin de Pays that performs nearly as well as a wine as esteemed as an A.O.C. like Bandol is a secret that you might want to keep all for yourself.
To go with this quintessentially Provencal wine, I served a first course of a puree` of tuna, chick peas, black olives, cumin, lemon and herbs on toasts followed by a main dish of pan-fried duck and pork sausages subsequently stewed in a dark sauce made with red wine, mushroom, pearl onion and unsmoked bacon with a side of a melange of mashed potatoes and black kale.
Jean Pierre Gaussen Vin de Pays du Mont-Caume 2012
Opaque, purple/black color. Fragrant, elegant nose of mulberry, plum, dried cranberries, dusty earth, tar, Mediterranean herbs, violet and cinnamon. The palate shows a velvety-textured full body with a discreet acidity and complex, textured tannins that ably support flavors of cassis, black cherry, balck raspberry, dark chocolate, minerals, and sweet chestnut paste. Quite long and complex blueberry syrup flavors on the finish.