It’s almost futile to really try and do justice to Domaine Tempier as a vintner from any perspective — historical, cultural, oenological. Certainly it’s hard to do a better job than Kermit Lynch, the importer who is responsible for bringing their wines to the US and who wrote about them in his wonderful book Adventures on the Wine Route. So, rather than my feeble attempt, let me share with you some of what Lynch has to say about this producer from Bandol, the wine region which takes its name from a little tourist town on the Mediterranean coast.
“Domaine Tempier is a place in Provence, a home with its winery and vineyards, its olive trees and cypresses. It is home to a large joyful Provencal family. It is a wine. And while it must be inadvertent, one of those fortuitous miracles that embellish existence (there is no recipe for it dispensed at wine school), there is a certain vital spirit that one imbibes with each gorgeous swallow of Domaine Tempier’s wine.”
What Lynch manages to capture so eloquently here, and in the rest of the chapter in his book which he dedicates to this Domaine, is the energy, history, and the cumulative experience that is embodied in this family-run establishment that can claim single-handed responsibility for the creation AND preservation of the appellation of Bandol.
I won’t attempt to retell everything in the book, but it is important to know that the entire family is involved in only the business of their wine, with vineyard management and winemaking split between the two sons of the family, each having naturally gravitated towards the area that most suited him.
The Mourvedre grapes which make up this wine (wines from the Bandol appellation must have at least 50%) are grown painstakingly by hand with microscopic yields, on terraced stone hillsides, so steep and narrow that the family’s tractors need rollbars to avoid certain death should they topple down the hill. No herbicides, no irrigation, weeding by hand, fertilization by hand sown remains of the must from the previous year’s vintage. The harvest is also by hand and the grapes are painstakingly destemmed 100% because Mourvedre stems apparently remain green even when ripe and can contribute undesirable green flavors to the wine.
No cultured (foreign yeasts) are used in the production of the wine, only natural ones from the vineyard, and in a remarkable showing of patience and vinicultural tradition, the wines are allowed to finish their fermentation naturally no matter how long it takes. Lynch relates in his book that the 1971 vintage took FOUR YEARS. Any other modern vintner (perhaps anyone really sane) would have inoculated the wine with some additional yeast to complete fermentation, and in doing so, at least according to the Tempier family, would have ruined the wine.
Such is the mindset, and the devotion, that goes into every bottle produced by the family and, frankly, it shows.
This wine is magically colored a perfect salmon hue, and smells of summer peaches, green grasses, and strawberries with cream. In the mouth it is just as delightful with flavors of peach and cantaloupe surrounding a bright, dry, mineral acidity that is completely without bitterness. The wine finishes with a gorgeous, lengthy taste of honey and orange blossom. I have never had such a refreshing, delightful rose.
I’ve had this wine with several things, and can safely say that it goes well with light cheeses, especially goat, crostini with green olive tapenade, and other light picnic and appetizer fare. Most remarkably though, it is a perfect pairing for salads of many kinds, especially those with a vinaigrette or citrus dressing. Something about the acidity of the dressing and the flavors of this wine work together to create something great.
Overall Score: 10
How Much?: $22
This wine is, of course, available from Kermit Lynch at any of his retail outlets, as well as from various retailers including Whole Foods, where I have seen half bottles on sale for $15. Full bottles are also available at Premier Cru.