Legends of Provence: All Roads lead to Bandol
I’ll be honest. I really fought hard for this offer. I’ve loved Bandol wines for years. They remain radar-free and routinely underestimated for just how special they can become with age. Kermit greeted us at his home with a bottle of 1975 Tempier ‘Cuvee Speciale’ which was handily the best ’75 anything I’ve ever tasted. But there’s a bigger story here. And it starts where all good stories start: Tahoe.
January 2016 – Lake Tahoe
It was a simple enough headline - winos congregate in ski-country rental. The itinerary:
• Get some turns in.
• Commence après.
This would be the first time I met Anthony Lynch. Anthony is soft-spoken and genuine with a weakness for wordplay. Any man who shares his PB&J on the gondola is okay by me. Our paths would intersect several more times this year, culminating in last week’s impromptu Francegiving plot.
11/23/16 – Francegiving Bandol
A small group of us, including half of the Tahoe ski team from January, decided to reroute our flights into Marseille, rent a car, and disrupt the balance of seaside Bandol. Thanksgiving day would ride off into the sunset with an epic feast at Domaine Gros Noré, but it started with Lulu Peyraud and Domaine Tempier…
99 year-old Lulu on lap. Kermit and Anthony at Chez Lynch.
The Background – All roads lead to Lulu
When Kermit Lynch first considered importing French wine he needed a cultural bridge. What he got, above a translator, was a mentor and lifelong friend in Richard Olney. One of the three ambassadors of French country cooking (Julia Child and Elizabeth David being the others), Richard may not have been as famous but his influence equally profound. He introduced Kermit to many of the best wineries and restaurants in France and opened the door for an already inquiring mind. He did the same for a woman named Alice Waters.
Alice Waters is living proof that a simple recipe of “staying close to the earth and looking to the garden for inspiration” is a timeless concept for an aspiring chef. Her Berkeley bistro, Chez Panisse, has endured five decades of uninterrupted success with imaginings rooted firmly in a trip to Provence and a lunch that Richard arranged at Domaine Tempier. At an outdoor table, she found herself with Lucien and Lulu Peyraud, washing down urchin that their son Francois had pulled from the Mediterranean with Tempier Rosé. Needless to say Alice goes back every year.
In an era far from us...
If Lulu wasn’t peddling her wine all over France with children at her feet, she was hosting people at the winery. If you came over for a tasting, she would prepare some food for you. Her cooking was the stuff of legends, prompting Richard Olney to publish Lulu’s Provencal Table, a compendium of her recipes (in painstaking detail), including Lulu's incomparable Bouillabaisse recipe. It was not a giant leap for Kermit to get on board, and so began a seminal import company and many more adventures on the wine route...
What organic looks like in winter at Domaine Tempier
Bandol and the Mourvedre grape – A Brief History
The Bandol region owes its place in the sun to Lulu’s late husband Lucien. Work towards making the appellation AOC certified was perhaps slowed in the late 30’s by the war. Ultimately Bandol came to be in 1941. Lucien was a tireless champion of Mourvedre and mandated a 50% minimum in the area’s red blends. As winemaker Daniel Ravier eloquently put it, “this really pissed a lot of people off (initially).” Ultimately, however, the move helped clarify the region’s identity. Could we call Bandol the crown jewel of Provence? It’s pretty damn important.
A view from Lulu's backyard
After the tasting, Daniel escorted us over to a Chateau that puts the ‘q’ in quaint. One of Lulu’s upper middle-aged children met us at the door. Seated in a breakfast nook with various French culinary treats and Champagne was Madame Peyraud herself. She was all smiles. When she stood up to greet us, she was almost the same size as she was sitting down. I spoke to Kermit about her height later that day. He said “Lulu was never tall but she’s definitely shrinking. I’m beginning to think she’ll never pass away, just merely keep shrinking until the inevitable happens.” I’d give her 4’9”. Tops. Her personality was a solid 7’2”.
Lulu was in extremely good health for her age. She spoke no English and drank fast. It was impressive how fast she drank considering she was carrying the conversation. If it wasn’t Marseille jokes it was stories about the war. She would huddle in the dark with her children when there was no electricity. About the war she said, “The Germans…they were rigid, tough. The Italians…they liked to talk to the French girls.”
Sunset at Chez Kermit and then...Terrebrune time...
In the evening we celebrated Thanksgiving in style. Alain Pascal from Gros Noré is essentially Hoss Cartwright in French form. He roasted multiple pintade on a rotiserrie in his fireplace. Kermit procured some lovely old bottles from his cellar. We slept well that night.
Large Terrebrune barrels
Reynald Delille of Domaine de Terrebrune has a quiet warmth about him. Of Parisian descent, Reynald’s parents moved to Bandol when he was very young. It was none other than Lucien Peyraud who helped them get started with planting. Needless to say, Tempier and Terrebrune are tightly knit.
The vineyard tour was rained out but the tasting more than made up for it. We sampled the new vintage out of barrel in their respective component parts. Verticals of red went back to ’81. Whites went back to ’06 and rosé went back to ’93. Yes, 1993 rosé…
'14 Tempier Classique and '93 Terrebrune Rosé
Tempier vs. Terrebrune = Winning
Geek alert… The Tempier wines are soulful. Unfined and unfiltered, firm structure meets a rounder texture - aided and abetted by richer soils and a slightly warmer climate. By contrast, the Terrebrune wines are precise and chiseled. They benefit from heavy oceanic influence and a rare Triassic limestone that lies very close to the brown top-soil for which Terrebrune is named. Terrebrune’s reds take more time to come around because of their linear frame. More in the cheat sheet at the bottom of the page…
Pushing off to the Jura for some lactose
It was an unforgettable trip, but the trip was just beginning. Chablis days, Paris nights, and Jura cheese... After a 3-hour tour in Champagne, I decided to head east to Alsace for today's offer. It's 38 degrees and choucroute garnie is calling my name. Time to fuel up and press go on the last offer of 2016. Or is it the last offer...
Tasting Notes: Mourvedre is dark fruit-dominated with signature earthy notes. Picture a Southern Rhone red with a rustic Bordeaux body. Terrebrune rosé is briny and crisp with tell-tale salinity (think Mediterranean).
Seasonal Pairing: Bandol reds with holiday meats and older cheeses: Tome de Provence, aged goat / Bandol rosé with Bouillabaisse
When to Drink: 2014 Tempier: accessible within the year but best between 2022-2034+ 2011 Terrebrune: a very similar vintage to 2001 which I had at the domaine. The '01 was delicious but still had plenty of life. '15 Terrebrune Rosé: Best now - 2024+
Geeky Things: Cuvee speciale was a single vineyard bottling of Tempier prized single vineyard sites. The cuvee was abolished in the early 2000's. Now it goes into the Bandol Classique. All wines are farmed organically. Tempier converted to biodynamic practices 3 years ago.
Area Eats: My rec? Find someone in the region who knows a local farmer and cook it up.
Vintage Report: 2014 was cooler with some rain but Tempier got the bulk of its harvest in before the rains. 2011 was a fantastic year for red wine. Classic like '01. 2015 is riper and more approachable.
When In Rome: Make sure you have a windbreaker and hold on to your hat. It's windy year round.
Bigger Than Wine: With each monthly offer Viticole donates $5 per case on everything sold. For December my dear friend from the early restaurant days, Caleb Romo, has a daughter named Sophia, who battles Type I Diabetes. Padre Foundation support kids that have been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. They provide a social network and educational classes for both kids and parents, while contributing to research for a cure. You can check them out online.