Bandol at its finest – Domaine Tempier

There are a couple of estates whose reputation precedes their appellation. Chateau Simone in Palette, Huet in Vouvray, and of course Domaine Tempier in Bandol. As I mentioned previously, Lucien Peyraud played an enormous role in the establishment of the AOC, and has in many ways shaped the wines of Bandol as we know them today.  

The story of the estate, its humbleness and generosity have been immortalized in Kermit Lynch’s Adventures of the Wine Route, and there is little that I could write that could do it more justice. I can simply reaffirm that everything written in Lynch’s book is true. I did not originally intend to visit the estate, thinking that it would be too difficult to get in, but on a whim, I knocked on the door, only to be given a warm welcome followed by one of the greatest tastings of my life. As luck would have it, Tempier’s Australian importer was visiting at the same time, which was of course the perfect occasion to open some of the estates’ classics.

The estate holds something of a peculiar status, situated between being cult on the one hand and one of the biggest independent producers and economic forces in Bandol on the other hand. The single vineyard cuvées are justly revered for being some of the greatest wines you can find in the Provence, and their low production volumes (from about 10 000 for La Tourtine in a good year, to a mere 2 500 bottles for Cabassaou) as well as a dose of sommelier fetishism have made them increasingly difficult to find, contributing greatly to an almost mythical reputation.

The estate cuvée is however produced in increasingly large volumes and vineyard holdings have grown to an impressive 60 hectares following the 2016 purchase of La Laidière at Sainte Anne d’Evenos. This estate, founded in the forties, was mainly known for the production of white wines, as a lot of their vineyards contained soils rich in limestone and sandstone, planted in one of the coolest parts of the appellation. The parcels destined for red and rosé will be going to the estate cuvée in the coming years, although the possibility of creating an additional single vineyard cuvée lingers around the corner.

The tasting started with a comparison between Tempier Blanc 2016 (60% Clairette with the rest being Ugni blanc, Bourboulenc and Marsanne, spending 8 months in large oak) with La Laidière 2016 (60% Clairette, 40% Ugni blanc, raised in stainless steel). The Tempier was characterized by density, warm orchard fruit in the nose, and a touch of creaminess on the palate. La Laidière was almost the complete opposite, a bit muted in impression, but with fresh fruits, lime and peach mostly, and a more distinct mineral streak running through it. Before the acquisition of La Laidière, only 3% of the wine produced at Tempier was white. The impact of an additional five hectares to work with cannot be underestimated. I for one look forward to see the direction the whites will take in the future.

The estate’s rosé is by many considered to be the appellation’s best. Personally, I think it comes very close, just losing out to Pibarnon, which has a slightly spicier side that I love. There is howver no question that it can be stunning. The 2016 is surprisingly expressive with dominant floral notes and lovely scents of pomegranate. Quite fleshed out on the palate yet gentle, it finds itself between Pibarnon, which goes on structure, and Terrebrune, which goes perhaps a bit too much on nuance. A decidedly foodfriendly rosé, which I am confident will not reach its peak before five to seven years.

The day to day management in in the hands of Daniel Ravier since 1999, while Véronique Peyraud gives guests a warm welcome. It was under Ravier’s guidance that the estate moved towards biodynamic practices, although they are not actively looking for a certification. The Lucien Peyraud spirit still lingers when it comes to winemaking though, as one of the main reasons why the estate completely destems the grape bunches is simply because it was done like that since the days of Lucien. Similar to practices at Terrebrune, the harvest is hauled in in small crates as to avoid damaged bunches, and following spontaneous fermentation, elevage takes place in large foudres (25 to 75hl) for 18 to 20 months for all red wines.

The Cuvée Classique 2013 is textbook Bandol showing meat paired with fleshed out black fruit and a solid tannic backbone. A while back I tasted the 2009, and this just hit a beautiful spot, with the exuberance toned down a bit and the ripe tannic structure that you would expect in such a vintage. Still not ready, but at a more approachable point.

Onwards to the cellars, it was time to finally discover the single vineyard wines. La Tourtine and Cabassaou are close together, with the first being planted up the slopes leading to the lovely town of Castellet, and Cabassaou just beneath it. The latter in particular has an almost mythical reputation, as it is also the estate’s cuvée with the highest proportion of Mourvèdre at 90 to 95%, depending on the vintage. Its location keeps it shielded from the Mistral winds, and as it faces the southeast, the furnace conditions that Mourvèdre loves are ensured. La Tourtine is thus a bit more exposed, and the aeration encourages the grapes to retain a bit of their gentler side. Finally, La Migoua is an outsider in more ways than one. It is not only located on the territory of the nearby village of Beausset, a bit more removed from the estate, but it also contains ‘just’ 50% of Mourvèdre.

First up, La Tourtine 2016 (80% Mourvèdre, 10% Grenache, 10% Cinsault) from foudre is much more on the spicy side than the Cuvée Classique, showing cigar box, a bit of cedar and cloves. Very dense and chewy on the palate, packing quite the punch and confident about it. La Migoua 2016 (50% Mourvèdre, 20% Grenache, 25% Cinsault, 5% Syrah) is much more on floral notes, with gentle red summer fruit, and a bit more straight on the palate, almost boxed in by the tannins, only to reveal a more savoury side towards the finish. Both wines ooze confidence in their style, and will turn out glorious given time.

Moving on to the older vintages, the 1999 Cuvée Spéciale (La Tourtine) has just entered its tertiary phase, with a lovely liveliness being countered by forest floor, mushrooms and a smooth texture, at the best point to drink in my opinion, as it still holds on to something joyful. The 1981 La Tourtine is being reduced to bits and pieces, slowly falling apart yet still showing what once was. The brooding side of Mourvèdre has clearly taken over, and whereas I would have no problem downing the bottle next to a gamey stew, I think it used to be a bit more fun earlier on.

And finally, La Migoua 1982. Honestly? A singular experience that ranks very close to being one of the best red wines that I have ever had the pleasure of drinking. Jolting with life, with energy and vitality, all while just being so damn pretty in every aspect that it can be. The purest raspberry that you can taste combined with a middle eastern spiciness that transports you directly into the souk of Fez, charming, seducing and just so full of pleasure and joy. It can be a bit silly that I rave about a wine with so little Mourvèdre, after all my talk of the past weeks, but who cares? There are very few wines that deliver an instant smile on my face, but this one had me grinning from ear to ear.

The Provence Series

5 thoughts on “Bandol at its finest – Domaine Tempier

  1. A very enjoyable read. I discovered recently that I have a 2005 entry red in that part of my cellar where I discard stuff just to see if it will age. Fifty percent of the time it’s well worth the punt. But I ought to pop the cork this winter. Naturally I’m a Tempier fan.

  2. Sommelier fetishism , hahaha, great!
    You were lucky with your visit, it reminds me 2005 when we visited Tour du Bon and….Kermit Lynch joined us..!
    PS: David, indeed, pop the courk, 2005 isn t a vintage to keep in Bandol.

    1. I know that there is a certain restaurant in Antwerp that hogs all of the single vineyard cuvees, frustrating for a normal consumer, but ample proof of the sommelier community’s love ;).

      Luck and wine can indeed be very complementary!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.