As some one who follows the Italian scene closely, it is not a surprise to me that rosé can come in quite a deep hue. The pale Provencal version may be all the rage, but in reality pink wine can come in any shade from off-white to near-ruby. Just as human beings come in all shades, so we should not be surprised about the range of colours that rosé offers. Here the historic Tavel appellation leads the way with a deep colour.
Tavel is situated on the western bank of the southern Rhône. Across the river is Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which has provision for red and white wine, but not rosé. By contrast, and from pretty much the same range of grape varieties, Tavel is a rosé-only appellation which is its unique proposition and no doubt a commercial challenge. The rise of Lirac AC next door illustrates this rather neatly as here producers can make wine in three colours while Tavel has stuck steadfastly to what makes it distinctive. It has history on its side and was one of the first group of appellations introduced in 1936. With the growth of a whole range of pink wine styles today – think Blush Zinfandel to fruit-led Cabernets from Chile, pale Champagnes to near red Montepulciano – the question is whether Tavel continues to have something distinctive to offer.
The regulations for Tavel are relatively open-ended. While 9 grape varieties are allowed, as in the rest of the southern Rhône Grenache is the principal variety, blended with Cinsaut and more recently Mourvèdre and Syrah. This makes for quite substantial wines with relatively high alcohol levels and more than a hint of red fruit. This in turn makes for wines for food, for some degree of ageing and for all the year round, a truly versatile rosé. These qualities also relate to the way that the wine is made. What local producers like to call the Tavel-method is to refrigerate the crushed fruit for freshness and aromatics and then keep the juice on the skins for 12-24 hours. Most of the juice is run off (saignée) but some pressed wine is added which results in a rosé with that deeper colour and a certain grippiness on the palate, again good for food. The wines of Tavel offer fruit, structure and weight.
The local co-operative, Les Vignerons de Tavel, produces two million bottles a year, half of the total production of the 960 hectare appellation. As a result it has a great choice of wines to blend.
Différent, Les Vignerons de Tavel, 2013 – a blend made from organically-grown fruit from the three principal soil types of the area, limestone, pebbles, sand. As in Chäteauneuf-du-Pape, increasing attention is being paid to harvesting and vinifying plot by plot. The resulting wine has nicely lifted aromatics on the nose, plenty of red fruit of the broad palate and a crisp, dry finish with good persistence.
Ch. Maby, Prima Donna, 2013 – 60% Grenache, 40% Cinsaut; very restrained red fruit on nose then real depth of flavour, structured, substantial. If you tasted this blind you could be caught between thinking it was red and white.
Les Vignes d’Eugènie, Ch. Trinquevedel, Tavel AC, 2013 – this wine is fermented with higher temperatures than the typical 14-16ºC which refrigeration makes possible, with consequent greater extraction of tannins. Close to ruby in colour, quite oxidative in style but with fruit freshness, interesting umami notes on a complex finish. Said to be ageable for 5 years.
Domaine de la Mordorée 2008 – as this was served over a somewhat convivial lunch I don’ t know which of the domaine’s three rosé cuvées this was but it definitely was six years old. Candied red fruit, lavender notes, some savouriness, great length, very special. Proof in the glass that these wines can age.
With thanks to Syndicat Viticole de l’Appellation Tavel who sponsored this visit, October 2014