Rare is the winery tour where one gets the opportunity to taste wine that’s one week old! And wine that’s 30 years old! That was the case for us at Domaine Tempier in Le Plan du Castellet, France. Situated just north of the Provençal town of Bandol, the Domaine has been a family estate since the end of 18th century. Their three surrounding vineyards (about 90 acres) produce grapes from vines that range from 20 to 50 years old. The resulting red, white and rosé wines have become the Provençal favorites of collectors and sommeliers, putting Bandol wines on the map.
A view of the village of Le Castellet with Tempier’s terraced vineyard La Tourtine on the hillside.
We arrived at the Domaine at 10 am and were graciously greeted by Véronique Peyraud, a member of the founding family. Veronique spoke a little English, but with a member of our group fluent in French, we were able to capture every tidbit of history and information she served up. I knew we were in for a special morning when, after introducing ourselves, she immediately led us out of the tasting room. Our first stop was the winery, where fermentation had begun 7 days prior. There she poured small samples directly from the fermentation tanks.
This is 1-week-old Rosé juice, where the Mourvedré grapes from Tempier’s Cabassaou vineyard lend beautiful color to the juice. With fermentation incomplete, the juice tasted of marshmallows and bonbons.
Véronique told us this Mourvedré juice was also about 1 week old, and ultimately destined for their vineyard blend called Cuvée Classique. It, too, was sweet, but with more minerality. While these infant wines tasted nothing like the finished product, sampling them was a unique and fascinating experience. A bit like sitting in on the first reading by the cast of a play or movie.
On to the cellar. We started with the most recent vintage of the Rosé – the 2014. Because Tempier’s Rosé is typically 55% Mourvedré, the wines are more structured and less sweet than other Rosé made from Cinsault or Grenache. Tempier’s wines are food wines, not poolside sippers. The Rosé sees no oak; rather, the wine is aged in concrete vats or stainless steel for 8 months before bottling. And they are age-worthy. To illustrate this, a 2011 was poured. This was more deeply colored, with more minerality and a rounder mouthfeel. Excellent!
I thought Véronique was pressing the age-worthiness a bit too hard when she poured a Rosé from 1981. Redolent of brioche, the wine had lost much of its fruit and freshness. It was simply tired. I want my Rosé to be crisp, refreshing and fruit-forward. Note to self: you can age these wines 3 to 5 years, but not 35 years.
Tempier’s Bandol Reds are made in strict accordance with the 1941 AOC Bandol winemaking rules. The wines are aged at least 18 months in large Austrian foudres, each holding up to 2000 gallons. Less wood contact (due to the sheer volume of the foudre) suits my taste. The wines are bottled without fining or filtering.
We started with the 2014 Cuvée Classique. Of the three Tempier reds, the Classique production is the largest, and the easiest to find in the US. The Classique is 75% Mourvedré, 15% Grenache, 8% Cinsault and 2% Carignan. The nose was rich with garrigue (Provençal scrubland plants), white pepper, leather and earth. On the palate, the wine was layered with red and black fruits, with abundant mid-palate tannins. The wine calls out for some bottle ageing. This became clear when Véronique poured the single vineyard 2012 La Migoua. This vineyard has more clay and less limestone than other Tempier vineyards, giving the wine a rounder mouthfeel. But the true age-worthiness of these wines was uncontested in the presence of the 1985 La Tourtine. Wow. Brick-colored, softened tannins with the attributes of the younger wines dialed down to delicate, velvety balance. A knockout wine; and the perfect finale to this very special tasting. Bravo, Véronique, for a great showing.