The view from our lunch terrace over the vineyards of Bandol
We plonked down in our hotel in Avignon last evening and debated what to do for dinner. Was I to drive and be circumspect about the wine I was to consume with the meal? My travelling companion had a quick word with the barman and was told that the centre of town was but 900 metres from the hotel and easily walkable. Problem solved.
Note to self: barmen know nothing about either walking or distances. We tramped 5 kilometres and found our target restaurant full by the time we appeared, dishevelled from our forced march, at its door. We ate instead next door at a place called L'Opera. If you ever find yourself in Avignon, don't go there. The portions are ridiculously vast, the wine list uninspired and the décor naff.
This morning dawned cool but bright and we breakfasted quickly, keen to get on the road, for there was a large stretch of it before us. Our destination? Bandol, away to the south east. We covered the distance in 1.75 hours and performed a couple of laps of Le Plan de Castelet before finding our appointment at the Domaine Tempier.
Tempier is the ne plus ultra of Bandol, described by Clive Coates MW as one of the great wine estates of the world. At such a respected and celebrated estate, one half expects to get short shrift. Surely they are inundated with year-round tourists arriving unannounced, wanting attention and free samples of what's on offer. I am happy to say that, whether this is the case or not, we were given a warm welcome and ended up tasting in the cellar for 2.5 hours.
Samples of the 2007s were followed by 2006s, 2005s and then a whirlwind tour of bottles back to a venerable 1975. And what extraordinary wines they are. Tempier produces wine like no other. I will publish notes elsewhere, but these are wild wines, feral, slightly kinky. One finds one's jaw steadily dropping as, one by one, the wines leave one in awe as to the extremes of what the grape is capable.
Lunch was enjoyable. We ate in Le Plan de Castelet at a restaurant called Le Pied de Nez in the ramparts of this old, old town. Good food; good enough to partner well the two-thirds full bottles of old Bandol we had been given to take away from Tempier. The extraordinary views from the terrace where we ate only served to marinate the food in greater pleasure.
Then, quick, we need to race up to Les Baux for our next tasting. We phone on ahead. We are to be half-an-hour late. No problem. For M Eloi Durrbach of Domaine de Trévallon is a kindly man. His eyes sparkle, especially when speaking about his own wines. And who can blame him? This is another banker of an estate. Again, 2006s followed the 2007s, all still in giant foudres in the cellar. Then a 2005, then 2001.
Before the tasting, we had a short tour of the vineyard. 30cm of pretty sandy soil covers limestone bedrock. It almost smells like good terroir and so it is proved by the wines. The white here will keep 10 -15 years, the red, in vintages like 2005 and 2006, 20-25 plus. The 2007 will probably outlast us all.
So, two domaines only visited today, but what maverick yolks of quality in the fried egg that is southern French wine. We have been thrilled; we have been stunned. All that remains is for us to find somewhere, possibly in Châteauneuf, for dinner. And that's where I am going now.
Terroir in action: the improbably stony soil at Trevallon