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Part 2 – France


Provence: Cassis & Bandol, Southern Provence



Cassis

Our first trip out of the Les Baux region was to see more of Provence, specifically the Southern parts in the seaside town of Cassis and Bandol. In Cassis we wanted to check out the town and the renowned scenery, as well as the source of the dish we all know as Bouillabaisse for lunch. After lunch we had planned to visit one of our favorite wine producers at Domaine Tempier in the French AOC Bandol, just north of the town of Bandol, which was 20 minutes further down the motorway. In case you did not know, Domaine Tempier just so happens to also make the world’s best Rose wine, a type of wine famous from the Provence region.

Cassis, the marina, the waterfront, then the vineyards and crowned hilltops

Heading south from Les Baux through a slew of motorways crossing the countryside, we made our way to Cassis for a special seaside lunch. Driving off the motorway you wind your way down the switchback roads to Cassis and upon seeing your first glimpse of the Mediterranean feel invigorated by its electric and deep blue colors that seem to entice you to drive faster down the hillside. At each turn you see either a mountain top overlooking the vineyards with land stretching down to the sea below, or the blue waters of the Mediterranean reaching out to the horizon. The crests and peaks seem to keep watch over Cassis, one’s eyes are constantly drawn to the unique shapes and sizes when not mesmerized by the blue water of the Mediterranean.

Palisades south of Cassis from the beach

Cassis is still a small Seaside town, with a modest, but quite capable Marina where yachts mingle with fishing boats hauling in the morning’s bounty from the sea. There is a beach that is more pebble than sand that is not kind on feet not accustomed to the modestly rigorous tread. This being the first time we were setting our feet into the Mediterranean Sea were did not care one bit.

“Bouillabaisse”

The restaurants on the water, from what we read, were notoriously overpriced and not as good as those in the narrow streets in from the waterside. Unfortunately none of our 3 choices was open on Mondays and we chose L’Oustau de la Mar on the water instead. It had the most French people eating at it and we had a good feeling we would get the best Bouillabaisse at this restaurant on this day. By the first few bites we knew we chose correctly. Eating Bouillabaisse is not just a meal, it is an event. It is carefully coordinated with a mass of seafood. It starts with a seafood broth, then you add in crusty bread and rouille (similar to aioli with saffron). Then add in the “frutti di mare” like Monkfish, Turbot, shrimp, mussels, crab, langoustine, potatoes, and tomatoes. Pair it with a nicely chilled Rose wine from Cassis and you have perfection! The 2009 Chateau de Fontblanche rose did the trick! Bouillabaisse was the perfect foil for the strawberry and crisp citrus peel notes of the wine.

Bandol

After lunch we made our way back up to the motorway and continued south to Bandol. The AOC Bandol is actually in a few small towns and villages in the hills above Bandol. Not one vine exists in the proper town of Bandol south of the actual AOC.

The sign from the road, a small, narrow, bumpy farm road!
I discovered Bandol reading the book by famed American wine importer Kermit Lynch “Adventures Along the Wine Route”. Anyone that loves to read about wine and reading good stories must pick this book up to read about how wine and the French countryside existed 20-30 years ago. Though one can tell driving to Tempier that some has changed, with a small village of modern homes and a brand new school as neighbors to what once was all farm country and grape vines. We were lucky enough to see Lucy Peyraud who at 93 still gets around the premises just fine and easily looks 10-15 years younger. Her secret is one glass of wine every day (and probably all natural wholesome foods from the region’s bounty). Domain Tempier was Lucy’s fathers operation before she and Lucien took it over. Lucien was partly responsible for having Mourvedre put back in the Bandol region’s wines, as well as contributing heavily to establishing Bandol as an AOC. Domaine Tempier was taken to great heights by Lucien who was instrumental in taking the wines of the AOC into the modern world and out into new drinker’s hands by making acquaintances such as Kermit Lynch.

Estate Tempier vineyard,  La Migoua in the hillsides in the foreground

Mourvedre


Domaine Tempier produces one rose wine, one white, and 4 red wines. The white is a kitchen sink blend of Rhone Varietals (Clairette, Bourboulenc, Ugni Blanc) and made in minute quantities, making it a rare find at retail as it is only 3% of their production. The rose is mostly Mourvedre, about 50%, with Grenache, Cinsault and Carignan making up the rest of the blend. The red wines are Mourvedre based and quite unique as Bandol is one of the few regions that can successfully grow Mourvedre consistently and then bottle it as the majority grape as it needs abundant warmth and sunshine, something Bandol has in spades. MourvedreCuvee Classique rouge is the entry level red, priced around $35. The typical blend is 75% Mourvedre, 16% Grenache, 8% Cinsault, and 2% Carignan. The other 3 reds are each from single distinct vineyards from Bandol and each contain different levels of Mourvedre, the lowest being 50% and the highest being 100% Mourvedre. La Migoua has 50% Mourvedre, La Tourtine 80%, and Cuvee Cabassaou the most at 95%.

We tasted the 2009 Bandol Rose, then the 2006 and 2007 rouge Cuvee Classique wines. In the tasting room with us that day were a friendly English family on holiday from London.

Domaine Tempier Rose 2009

The color is a beautiful pink and copper hue. The nose is enticingly silky and fresh with strawberry and citrus fruits mixing with a note of creaminess (fig?). The palate is well balanced and full. A silky front and mid-palate of ripe strawberry, dried sweet figs, and perfect acidity leaves the palate fresh but lingering for more from the long finish. This is truly a red wine drinker’s rose that is complex and finishes long.

Domaine Tempier Rouge 2007

Dark and vibrant core with red edges. Bigger, fuller, more concentration and balance than the 2006. A notch more complex and concentrated than the 2006. A seamless, balanced wine. The tannins seem as strong in 2007 as in 2006, but more fruit carries the wine through uninterrupted. Black and red fruits like currants, cherry, and blackberry compote have a touch of provincial herbs and some pain grille.

My favorite Mourvedre: Tempier Rouge, a blend of the 3 great single vineyards la Migoua, la Tourtine, Cabbassaou, 

Domaine Tempier Rouge 2006

Similar flavors and aromas to the 2007 but the tannins seem to be more evident in the 2006 than the 2007. 2006 was still a good year and a great wine, but given the choice the 2007 seems more complete. The acidity is a little more evident here as well.

The bottling process in full swing

We toured the cellars and some of the vineyards to get a glimpse of the operation and how the Tempier wines are made. The soils, abundant sunshine and consistently warm temperatures are perfect terroir to produce the best Mourvedre grapes on the planet. The best vineyards in Bandol lay on hillsides that look like amphitheatres overlooking the Meditteranean Sea. These hillsides stress the vines as nutrients run away from the vines faster, and the angle of the hillsides lay the vines out to catch the most that the sun can deliver. The Mourvedre grape has a long maturation period that needs a long period of warm, sunny days to ripen enough to produce optimal grapes for wine.

2008 Bandol rouge in the cement fermentation tank being readied for bottling

The fermentation room has concrete and steel fermentation tanks, while the big attractions are the huge foudre (large wooden barrels, see us below in front of one) that are used to age the red wines in after fermentation is complete in the cement tanks. Unlike the wines in barrel in say Napa or Bordeaux, small barrels are not used at Tempier, and for that matter in most of Bandol to age the wines in after fermentation. While we were there the bottling line was running and I took a few pictures of the operation in action. After bottling the wines are racked with no labels or caps until they are ready to be sent out to the world for purchase.

Lisa & I in front of the largest foudre

We only had time for Tempier and made our way back to Les Baux. I can’t wait for the next time I have the opportunity to go to the AOC Bandol and see more of the vineyards and other Domaines.

They say place has a lot to do with certain wine moments and how you remember wines. In the case of Tempier, the first time I had it was a remarkable wine moment for my Dad and I. I remember having the 2005 Bandol Rose at the Four Seasons in Hawaii on the Big Island. We had a few bottles of it with insanely fresh fish at a beach side table for dinner. The other night it eluded us at Chef Mavro in Waikiki so we were happy to find it here with dinner. This was my first time with Tempier Rose and I will never forget it as I will never forget my first trip to Tempier!

Lucien and Lucy Peyraud – Cheers, what a life!

Go to Bandol and you will never forget that either! But if you can’t get there, please do yourself a favor and go find these wines to drink. You will not regret getting some of the best Mourvedre on the planet, especially the Rose for these warm summer days!

Cheers,
Tom

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