2010 Domaine Tempier “Cabassaou”

I’ve never eaten at Prune, Gabrielle Hamilton’s landmark NYC restaurant, but after reading her book, and watching her on Mind of a Chef, I believe that she — and her restaurant — are the perfect analogy to Domaine Tempier. Both are rooted deeply in French tradition (the Patriarch of Domaine Tempier, Lucien Peyraud actually helped develop the Bandol AOC), yet have wild streaks, essential in making them both vanguards in their respective industries. In an episode of Mind of a chef, Ms. Hamilton proudly tells the camera something to the effect of, “it feels so good to not be burdened by following trends.” This describes Domaine Tempier perfectly.

Thought a ripe, bold wine, the winemaking at Tempier is stubbornly old-fashioned. Fermented with indigenous yeast, then matured in large oak foudre, the wines of Tempier have a reputation for rusticity. The wines also, (in)famously, tend to have a decent amount of Brettanomyces, giving the polarizing “barnyard” characteristics of worn leather and animal aromas.

In addition to the “cuvée classique”, Tempier produces three single-vineyard cuvees: La Migoua, La Tourtine, and the wine I am writing about, Cabassaou. Though the AOC mandate in Bandol is that at least fifty percent of the wine must be made of Mourvèdre, Tempier uses much more, with the highest percentage belonging to the Cabassaou bottling at about 95% Mourvèdre, grown on 50+year-old vines.

The winemaker for Domaine Tempier, Daniel Ravier, suggests that his favorite time to drink his Bandol is five to ten years after bottling. At this point, he states, the wines retain their youthful power and fruit, but begin to develop tertiary aromas of lavender and thyme. After opening this bottle, I can’t necessarily disagree with his approach, though would lean toward the ten year end of the timeline, given that this wine performed much better on the second night it was open.

This wine began with the requisite Bandol power: the tannin and the Brett were extremely pronounced . In addition to Brett, there was a little volatile acidity which reminded me a lot of the wines of Quintarelli in the Veneto. The fruit is dark and brambly: wild blackberries, blueberry, black cherry, and plum. Though reductive in nature, the wine had an aroma and slight taste of almond paste, which when combined with the cherry, was extremely dessert-like.

With air, the secondary aromas began to emerge. Under the ripe fruit was the scent of new leather. With more time, the garrigue associated with Provence began to reveal itself: fresh-from-the-soil thyme and rosemary mingled with lavender. On day two, all the aforementioned, plus the scent of cocoa powder displayed a very impressive complexity of taste and aroma.

What sets Tempier apart, in my opinion, is the texture of the wine. “Velvety” is an often used, though almost never accurate description of mouthfeel. In the case of Domaine Tempier, though, it is hard to think of a more fitting description of the texture. The wine, most likely a result of the high alcohol that is a result of the warm temperatures in the south of France, is very full-bodied and the prominent, though fine-grained, tannins coat the palate in the most pleasing way. Dense and chewy, though always balanced with enough acidity to keep it from being monotonous.

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