Fri 09 Jan 2015

A Tour of Tempier: Bandol’s Ship of State


During a recent trip to the Rhône with Society buyer Marcel Orford-Williams, we were given the opportunity to taste with Daniel Ravier of Domaine Tempier, and were treated to some remarkable mature bottles. But this region remains a well-kept wine secret.

Domaine TempierDomaine Tempier lies at the heart of the Bandol region, cushioned between Marseille to the west and Toulon to the east. The area is a kind of natural amphitheatre, with sloping, terraced vineyards running almost to the Mediterranean shore. The story of Domaine Tempier is a fascinating one, and worth recounting.

First established in 1834, the Tempier family’s estate was initially a house just outside of the village of Bandol. For one hundred years the estate weathered various crises – from phylloxera to the Great Depression – until, in 1936, the young Lucie Tempier married one Lucien Peyraud. Lucien was as in love with the idea of winemaking as he was with Lucie and, following completion of his wine studies, began replanting Tempier’s 38 hectares of vineyards with grenache, cinsault and – vitally – mourvèdre.

Tempier barrelIt is this variety for which Bandol and Tempier are now, justifiably, most highly regarded. Mourvèdre is not an easy variety to grow well. It buds and ripens late, requiring milder winters and a long and hot period of ripening. It also likes water, but not so much that its leaves become so vigorous as to leave the berries in the shade. Susceptibility to downy and powdery mildew completes the picture of a rather fussy and capricious variety.

Tempier’s vineyards, however, are perfectly placed to accommodate all of mourvèdre’s needs: the Mediterranean climate provides the long, hot growing season but with the added bonus of proximity to the sea. The vines can have their heat and also just enough humidity to keep them happy. The Mistral is also still an influence here, providing cooling breezes that help to prevent against rot and mildew. But each vineyard is its own world, and three of Tempier’s stand out so well that the estate bottles them separately: La Migoua, La Tourtine and Cabassaou.

Tempier barrelsEach vineyard’s terroir and aspect contribute to the individuality of the wines there produced. La Migoua is perched on the south-facing slope of Le Beasset-Vieux, a hill of clay soils with some chalk and ancient veins of muschelkalk. The mourvèdre here is complimented by cinsault and also a little grenache, and the wines have a slightly wild, animal note to them. Still, the 2012 we tasted with Daniel was concentrated and complex, with a surprising elegance.

La Tourtine vineyard lies at the top of a hillside near the village of Le Castellet and, as such, is well exposed to both sunshine and wind. The resulting wines (usually made with around 80% mourvèdre) are concentrated and fine, with structure and spice and an obvious propensity to age well.

The Cabassaou vineyard is the most mourvèdre-heavy of Tempier’s three vineyard parcels – it accounts for 95% of the blend. The terroir is perfect for the variety: sheltered from the worst ravages of the Mistral by the hill at Le Castellet, the vineyard receives instead a constant, gentle breeze to temper the summer sun’s heat. The wines are powerful and dense, and are capable of ageing phenomenally well.

After a fascinating tasting from barrel (and Tempier has a wide variety of different barrels!), Daniel treated us to three very special bottles.

Domaine Tempier Bandol Blanc 2005: Honeyed, round with hints of orange peel and nuts, this was absolutely delightful. The texture was creamy yet light and bright with lovely fresh acidity. The finish was long and clean and redolent of butterscotch.

Tempier tastingDomaine Tempier Cuvée Migoua 1987: Spicy, leathery nose with a dried red fruit and currants. There is clove and dried herbs on the palate, with a little sweet fruit and fine tannins remaining. A mature wine, so be sure, but still with plenty of freshness and lift.

Domaine Tempier Cuvée Speciale 1974: The nose is full of gentle spice and tobacco and dried mint. Silky, sweet tannins and wonderful freshness combine to make harmonious, complete wine. Some of the richness and generosity has faded here, but what remains is complex and ethereal.

Joe Mandrell
Trainee Buyer

Categories : France, South of France


  1. Steve Baker says:

    We know this area well and would welcome more wine from this region to feature in the Society collection. Most of the wines from this area require considerable aging to reach their best thus the costs are relatively a little more.

  2. Robert Davenport says:

    Like the town of Sanary, Bandol is the best kept secret of the French. They keep it for themselves. Bandol is quite a small region and produces a comparatively small amount of wine, not enough to satisfy the demands of the big supermarkets or wine chains of England. But there is hardly enough for the French either and it seems to be getting scarcer and scarcer and more expensive down there. And is virtually invisible here.

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