The Peak of Mourvèdre: Domaine Tempier’s Bandols. Unyielding when young, when do they come around?

I’ve tasted young vintages of Domaine Tempier’s Bandols, and visited the domain for a comparison of recent cuvées, but these wines are so stern and sturdy when young that they are hard to assess, and you feel you may be missing the point. So I seized the opportunity to go to a vertical tasting in New York extending back to the early eighties (organized by Acker with a dinner at Boulud Sud).

The appellation wine from 2012 is impenetrable to the point at which it’s hard to get a good sense of future direction, but the single vineyard La Tourtine shows fragrant, elegant aromatics, albeit monotonic at this stage, but in a straight lineage back to 1989, 1986, and 1983. It’s a fantastic impression of the purity of Mourvèdre fruits (it’s 80% Mourvèdre), but although it softens and broadens out with time, it isn’t until it’s reached thirty years old, at least for me, that the aromatics calm down enough for it to be a really good accompaniment to food.

La Migoua, which has 50% Mourvèdre, shows broader flavors in all vintages. A direct vertical from 1989 to 1985 shows less vintage variation than you would see with, say, Bordeaux or Burgundy, but the 1988 stands out for its breadth, compared to the slightly tighter impression of 1989, the less intense 1987 and slightly flatter 1986, until you get to the 1985, the most complete wine of the tasting.

In every vintage where there was a direct comparison, La Tourtine seemed to me to be the finer wine, but La Migoua, with its broader flavor spectrum, was a better match with food. It is however probably no coincidence that my preferred vintage for both wines is the oldest tasted, 1985 for Migoua and 1983 for Tourtine.

There was only one vintage of the cuvée with the most (95%) Mourvèdre, the 2005 Cabassou (which comes from a specially protected spot in the Tourtine vineyard), which however developed more complexity in the glass than shown by any of the younger vintages of Migoua or Tourtine.

Mourvèdre has high tannins, but these have been well tamed in all the cuvées, and the issue in aging is not so much resolution of bitterness as the need to develop flavor variety. None of these wines showed the gamey character that can be associated with Mourvèdre, a sign perhaps of the ripeness of the grapes. Development comes slowly, beginning after about ten years for Migoua and nearer to twenty for Tourtine. The first signs of savory character do not show for almost thirty years, 1985 for Migoua, 1983 for Tourtine (but the Tourtine did not seem anywhere near realizing its full potential).

Will complexity develop in the next decade or will the wines begin to decline? Since these single vineyard wines were first produced in 1969, I’m beginning to wonder whether in fact there is a long enough history yet to be able to assess their development.

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