Collette wrote of France’s Jurançon: when I was a young girl, I was introduced to a passionate Prince, domineering and two-timing like all great seducers…
My lifelong affair has been with Domaine Tempier’s Bandol rouge, which began in the early 1980s, when I was first introduced to the French imports of Kermit Lynch. In the beginning, I did not understand the compulsion: it was a red wine that always seem to have a spirit – whether it was in the mysterious, earthy, scrubby, leathery notes that often seem to engulf the aromas of berry liqueurs in the nose, or the slightly sparkly, lively, lilting quality in the texture of the wine itself, almost belying a meatiness of tannin and dried grape skin flavor.
Whatever the case, it was like my first love, which happened to be a girl from a Hawaiian plantation – a black maned mestiza, first sighted bouncing up onto the back of a truck, work gloves belted at the waist, jeans snug around the thighs and tucked into dusty leather, steel tip work boots, and (like me) 15 years old going on whatevah. I was tongue tied and discombobulated for weeks; and even long after, incapable of understanding exactly why ordinary conversation seemed as strenuous as swimming in mud.
But conversation with the maddening mestiza did continue for some time, thank you; but with Bandol, the conversation has been going for much longer. It is, after all is said and done, a wine that never seems light or heavy, lean nor fat, zesty but never sharp, delicious with a stew of meat, and delicious with a stew of fish. In short, the ideal lifelong companion.
Many years later, reading the chapter devoted to Domaine Tempier in Kermit Lynch’s classic book, Adventures on the Wine Route, I came to understand why this wine, of all wines, retains its eternal dusty leathered youth: particularly the fact that it comes from a magnificent vineyard in Provence’s Le Plan de Castellet, close enough to the Mediterranean where the air is pungent with the smell of the ocean mixed with scrubby herbs of the chalky hillsides. How François Peyraud plowed and hoed the field by hand rather resort to herbicides, and fought mildew by spraying the vines (mostly Mourvèdre, with some grapes of the Grenache) only with natural sulfur from the soil of a nearby region so that the terroir could remain pristine and protected from artificial intrusion.
And how Jean-Marie Peyraud, following his father Lucien’s lead, aged the Bandol strictly in large, well used casks (rather than new, small oak barrels) so that the wine tasted of grapes and earth rather than freshly hewn trees, and bottled with absolutely no sulfites so that years after, when drinking Domaine Tempier Bandol, you would still feel like you were drinking directly from the cask, when the wine still tastes like it is just squeezed from the grapes.
Indeed, Domaine Tempier’s Bandol is a wine that really doesn’t age. That is to say, it will retain its deep color and fragrance – in fact, deepen in color and fragrance – even as the years fly by. I kid you not, as this very fact was driven home to me one night (oh, about eleven years ago) when Kermit himself served me a muscular 20 year old Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape, followed by a regally scented 20 year old Chave Hermitage, followed by a 20 year old Domaine Tempier… all double-blind (the identities of the wines hidden from me in decanters), and densest, darkest, most fragrant wine of the three was still, after all that time, the Bandol!
But I wasn’t surprised, because I’d already been entangled with Bandol for some time. Now are you getting interested?
Okay, then you must first find yourself a bottle of the 2006 Domaine Tempier Bandol Classique (about $40); which, although is an entry level Bandol (Tempier produces several single vineyard Bandols with even more pent-up energy and power), has all the Bandolishness you need: a nose of sweet berries (sometimes I think cassis, other times framboise) floating over the glass with wispy, invisible clouds of earth (freshly composted humus… perfume to a gardener) and gunflint mixed with a subtle ocean salinity; and on the palate, juicy, rich, medium to full flavors, tugging at the senses like that old, familiar, perfectly agreeable pain (ah, that girl from the fields).
When Kermit and I tasted that 20 year old Bandol, he and his wife Gail Skoff served up squab and a casserole of scalloped potatoes layered with truffles. Of course, the match was perfect in every way, but not exactly your normal Friday night meal. In lieu of that, I prescribe slow smoked birds, like duck or Cornish game hen. But from many years of experience, I also know that Bandol’s salt and flint nuanced berry qualities are absolutely delicious with Island style smoked pulled pork (what we call kalua pig), which differs from Southern style pulled pork in that it’s not mixed in or served with a vinegary, sweet-spicy barbecue sauce (Bandol doesn’t have the pointedly sweet, berry jam flavors like, say, California Zinfandel to handle American barbecue sauces).
No, for Bandol all you need is a fork tender, steamy pile of smoked pork dolled up with nothing more than rock salt. The ancient Hawaiians traditionally dug a 6 x 4 x 3 foot hole in the ground to make their kalua – the whole pig cooked over blazing hot rocks, covered with banana leaves and burlap, and then buried in the ground to steam a good 24 hours. I’m not suggesting you find your fatted pig, dig up the backyard or drive down to Louisiana for your banana leaves. After many years of living off-island, I’ve devised my own total “lazy man’s” way of cooking Hawaiian style pulled pork, requiring nothing more than time:
5-8 lb. pork butt
¼ cup sea salt (Hawaiian if you can find it; kosher in a pinch)
2 oz. liquid smoke (or ½ bottle of Wright’s Liquid Hickory Smoke)
Pre-heat oven to 350° F. Score pork and place in a big enough Dutch oven. Combine salt and liquid smoke and rub all over pork. Pour water half-way up side of pork; cover with heavy duty aluminum foil and roast in oven, at least 1 hour per pound.
The entire house will smell like a smoker, but that’s okay… just open a window and pop a well chilled bottle of Domaine Tempier’s Bandol rosé (some say, the finest dry pink wine in the world). Remove pork from water, place in large bowl and shred with tongs or strong forks. Mix in additional rock salt to taste. Serve with steamed white rice, collard greens or spinach, fresh sliced tomatoes, the Bandol rouge, and you’re in business!