The Grapes: Primarily Mouvedre, with Grenache, Cinsault, Carignan
The Region: Bandol, Provence: Southern France
Pairs Well With: Most fish, shellfish, salads, aioli
Stay Away From: Extremely tart flavors (citrus, etc), robust red meat, raw oysters
You Will Like It If: You want to try a complex, age-worthy rosé, and you’re willing to pay for it
Stay Away If: You’re a rosé fan looking for a delicious everyday sipper
Cellar Potential: Best now – 2015+
I was seated next to three middle-aged women, and I knew these had to be the cruelest people alive.
It had been raining for a solid month in the Midwest, and our small city seemed closer akin to Venice than any of its landlocked brethren. A walk/paddle out to my local bike trails found the paved surfaces underwater, and the dirt trails were a sloppy muddy disaster. The scene was disheartening, as my last serious ride (a month ago before the rain) had resulted in one of my signature spectacular crashes. All wounds mended, I was eager to get back in the saddle, as it were, to try and shake the memory of gravity’s attempt on my life. Having been off the bike for several weeks, the experience had grown in my mind into something sinister, and I was haunted by nightmares of savage bicycles hunting me in the darkness. But without an outdoor option, I was forced inside to exercise my demons.
The Devil named it Spin-Class, a one-hour session at our local fitness center, where acts of unspeakable torture occur on an almost daily basis. Oh these classes look innocent to the bystander. Happy throngs of smiling faces pedal in unison with guidance from an instructor at the head of the group. The music is loud and the atmosphere looks fun. What could be so terrible?
But that vision is a deception. The instructors are evil and the students, I can only assume, are dedicated masochists. I ventured into this particular class, thinking it would be a good way to do some pedaling in until the waters receded. Having done a few fitness classes before, I figured I would be ready for anything. I would soon see I was in way over my head.
The crowd was light, only these few smiling middle-aged ladies meandered through the door as class-time approached. Conversation was happy and light, focusing on such domestic issues as new babies, new cars, new houses. The instructor, a deceptively petite lady of maybe 35, was similarly conversational.
But as class started, I quickly realized that these creatures, both instructor and students, were a cruel bunch. After about 30 seconds of pedaling, I was breathing hard and working up a good sweat. After five minutes, I was somewhere between exhaustion and death. Using what little energy that remained to me, I forced a leftward glance, hoping to commiserate with my fellow victims. I was greeted by smiling faces, bouncing slightly as their pedals moved at speeds far beyond what I thought their bikes could take. Obviously alone in my fate, my glance returned grimly to the floor.
And the instructor, my last hope for salvation, was merciless. If at five minutes my energy was gone, at about seven minutes she broke what was left of my spirit. As my mind pondered at what point I would pass out and/or throw up (it was previously inconceivable such things could happen in unison), I heard her mutter something about finishing a “good warm up,” and now it was time to sprint. Her pedals started flying (somehow) even faster, and I realized dizzily she was just getting started.
The sprint, which left me barely conscious, folded into a series of superhuman exercises I felt lucky to survive. Somewhere near the middle of the session, I was sure I could endure no more. Every sinew of my lower body was screaming in agony. My bones seamed strained and my muscles refused my brain’s commands. Passers-by seemed concerned by the strange, twitchy creature flailing about like a lunatic in a fruitless attempt to keep up.
But every time I reached some new plateau of anguish, the instructor, in a scarily chipper voice, would chirp out some new insanity we were expected to commence. Through all this, the crazies next to me (I refuse to call them students as they were obviously not of this world) would call out more aggressive exercises they wanted to try.
When by some grace of God the class was over, I peeled myself from my seat and stumbled off in search of water. My fellow students were unfazed, and conversations about patio furniture and basement remodels picked up where they left off. I watched in horror as the instructor hopped off her bike and summoned the rest of the students to something called a “body sculpting” exercise session upstairs.
Having no interest in further torture, I watched the class trot away and staggered toward my car (ignoring concerned glances from several weight lifters). Eventually I headed home in search of repose.
Now this is a wine blog, and I think it’s important to note that most of the time I try to bring life experiences to bear on what I find so fascinating about wine. People are maybe left thinking I take wine too seriously if everything in life reminds me of wine. For me, it’s really the other way around – wine tends to offer a bit of a microcosm of what I find so fascinating about life. Ironically, though, my Spin-Class experience offers no such metaphor. Instead, I find it ironic that J and I tried the 2007 Tempier Rosé on the same day I cheated death in Spin-Class, which left me desperately in need of refreshment.
Wine isn’t typically something one drinks to recuperate from strenuous physical exercise, and it is the last beverage I would want following athletic events. But when I found J had put the Tempier in the fridge, I was unable to turn it down.
There are a couple of reasons I was drawn to the Tempier. First, dry rosé itself (into which category this Tempier falls) is the most underappreciated wine category. Underutilized might be a better word for it, as I know many a dedicated oenophile who claims to be one of the few enlightened souls who enjoys rosé. But I have seen several wine vendors beat their chests over the selection of top quality rosé, only to find sale tags on most of those wines a few months later. Even those who claim to appreciate these wines don’t seem to buy very many.
And that’s a shame, because if the wine world has a true refresher, it is dry rosé. Made all over the world in colors ranging from deep pink to light salmon, in flavors that touch on fruit, herbs, resin and spice, it’s a versatile style that never lacks for tasty refreshing appeal. And it’s cheap. One can generally find great rosé ranging from $10-$20 or less.
Among rosés, Domaine Tempier is world renowned. While most rosé is typically described as simple and refreshing, Tempier’s stands alone as a wine of character and complexity. The wine relies primarily on Mouvedre and a smattering of other red grapes, whose skins are allowed to soak in with the fermenting grape must for a short period after crush, endowing the wine with a pale salmon hue. Those grapes were hand harvested from vines averaging about 20 years old, in clay/limestone southern French vineyards methodically pruned to preserve concentration.
The result, as in the case of the 2007 Tempier, is a rosé of uncommon depth and character. It is almost savage in its savory flavors. While on the pale side for rosé (a Bandol hallmark), it’s a wine of balanced concentration. On the nose, notes of cherry and strawberry are paired against spice, hay, and herbs. A pleasant acidity asserts itself on the midpalate, where flavors dance around black tea and berries. On the exceptionally long finish, the flavors turn more complex, with the herb and black tea nuances cut by the sharp acids.
Through all this, the wine is certainly not over the top. At its heart, this is still a rosé, and those looking for extreme density should probably just stick to reds. But as rosés go, this does bring more intensity than most.
Tempier rosé is dense and balanced enough that it is thought to age exceptionally well. While rosé is said to be best in its infancy, I have heard rumors of recent tastings featuring Bandol rosé from the 1980s still showing great. Truth be told, I have my doubts they could hold out that long, but I have to admit I found the 2007 (which might typically be over the hill for rosé) to be a bit young and unyielding. The flavors were complex, but they felt a bit closed off, as if there would be more to offer in 2-3 years.
One main drawback is its price. Tempier’s renown has not done any favors for the consumer’s bottom line, and I regularly see Tempier’s rosé commanding $40 or more a bottle. And that’s if you can find it. Southern France isn’t exactly a premier wine region in the US Market (I was in a large, reputable shop in Kansas City that had never heard of Bandol – I cried a little bit), and those retailers that do carry Tempier see it snatched up quickly.
One final note on Tempier, the winery produces red and white wines in addition to its rosé, and some of the single-vineyard reds are among the best wines in the world. The estate is operated by the famous Peyraud family, whose ancestry is connected to the Tempiers, which pioneered Bandol as a formal winegrowing region. Lulu Peyraud (formerly Lulu Tempier) is a famous chef and hostess, known to present guests with plenty of dry rosé as they arrive. If I could have one meal, it might be a simple aioli with Lulu Peyraud.
All content and photographs © 2010 jb’s pour house