Domaine Tempier Bandol La Tourtine 2012

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Tempier’s fame is built on it rosé. It is a rosé that has slowly creeped up over the years to become one of the priciest in most markets (barring some of the obscenely priced single vineyard rosés of d’Eclans). Tempier rosé gained its fame through Kermit Lynch’s brilliant marketing of this beautiful, historical Provencal domain. Some have even come to criticize the QPR of the wine.

While I still think the rosé deserves to be in the upper echelons, for me Tempier’s greatness lies in its red wines. These are wines that have seen serious resurgence in the last decade or so under winemaker Daniel Ravier, who was brought in by the Peyraud family to take over winemaking from Lucien Peyraud. While the Domain did have uneven wines in the 1990’s, today it is at top form. However, since its reputation derives from its rosé and not its reds, the reds in my view have remained exceptionally well priced and are some of the great bargains in top quality French wine.

History and Renaissance

Tempier may be the Chateau Margaux of Provence. Most will expect the reds to be powerful, masculine wines – and they certainly can be. However, it is the structural finesse that elevates these wines and will surprise many who haven’t had the domain’s top single vineyard bottlings.

Founded in 1834, the Domaine is still run by descendents from its original family of owners. Here you will find perhaps the world’s greatest champion for Mourvedre, making wines predominantly from that challenging grape that defy stereotypes. These are not rustic wines. They are not bold wines. Rather, the Mourvedre of Domaine Tempier is as elegant and refined in structure as many of the world’s greatest reds.

While the Domain has been famous for some time, in my view it is only much more recently that they have rebuilt the quality for which they became famous. When Daniel Ravier took over the domain in 2000 his first task was to clean up the cellars. Dirty cellars and mismanaged winemaking had left Tempier’s red wine program damaged and I would not recommend the wines from the 1990’s, which are often flawed.

When Ravier joined, he replaced many old foudres and thoroughly cleaned the rest. He reduced the use of steel vats for fermentation, and added cement vats in 2007. The domain now does 50/50 fermentation in the two vessels. Ravier has revamped the vineyards as well, which are now biodynamic.

These efforts have, in my view, catapulted the reds (particularly the 2010’s forward) into upper echelon territory. Once Tempier’s reds get rediscovered by the larger wine drinking public, it is likely the prices will begin to rise. For now, in my view the wines are underpriced by about 50%.

The Noble Mourvedre

Mourvedre gets little respect among the noble grapes. It is low yielding, with small berries. Its challenging stems require producers to destem or face overly green aromatics. It is often associated with meaty wines. It is rarely associated with finesse.

All these preconceptions have led most to view Grenache as the grape of France’s south. Most producers in Chateauneuf du Pape have facilitated that view by making Grenache dominant wines and by over the last couple decades moving away from the more traditional blends, with the notable exception of Beaucastel.

The spicy sweet glycerin of Grenache thus regularly talks over Mourvedre. Only those with subtle perception will realize who the truly interesting grape is. Tempier’s single vineyard reds make the case.

For Tempier, Grenache and Cinsault provide subtle qualities in small quantities blended into their Mourvedre dominant old-vine cuvees (70-80% in the case of La Tourtine). The two key vineyards are La Migoua and La Tourtine. The top bottling, Cabassou, is from a small unique block of the La Tourtine vineyard.

La Tourtine is situated on a hillside about 170m above seal level. It is composed of chalk and calcareous clay soils. The aspect and orientation make this site quite exposed to sun, resulting in soil so dry in the summer that, according to the domaine, it cracks wide enough to put your hand in. What does that mean for the vines? They must burrow deep into the ground to find water.

The Wine

La Tourtine deserves respect. It is utterly delicious wine. It is garrigue, blue fruit purity. But it is also structure, elegance and lift. It offers all the pleasure of Provencal aromas without the challenges of Provencal heat. It is far more balanced than the Grenache grown in the relatively nearby southern Rhone and, to my palate, far more food diverse.

But most indicative of La Tourtine’s value? It deserves to be collected by regular people who love wine. It deserves you sacrifice a couple easy drinking bottles to put one of these away each year. Regret will only arrive when the bottle is empty.

Excellent to Excellent+
$70 + tax at Marquis Wine Cellars

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