Rosé wines come in many shades of pink. They range from the pale color of “onion skin” orange to light pink to peach to salmon to “cotton candy” pink to red.
Perhaps you are accustomed to the almost translucent pink wines from Provence but on the other side of the spectrum are the wines from Tavel, France, with their salmon to dark ruby pink rosés.
Tavel is in the southern part of the Rhone Valley, just north of Avignon and on the right bank of the Rhône River, across from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Tavel exclusively produces rosé wines and in 1937 AOC Tavel was created, making it the first AOC rosé wine in France. Today, the region is home to 120 wine grape growers, two cooperatives and has 906 hectares planted.
Tavel’s climate has a Mediterranean influence, generally low rainfall and generous sunshine, with more than 2,700 hours each year. The Mistral — a strong, cold, northwesterly wind — flushes the atmosphere. Tavel has three principal soils: flat white stones and limestone are found in the west, sandy soil and ancient terroir in found in the southeast and rounded stones and river rock are found in the northeast.
In Tavel, nine grapes are grown: syrah, mourvedre, cinsault, clairette, grenache, bourboulenc, carignan, picpoul and calitor. Grenache is the base grape of Tavel but no grape variety can exceed 60 percent in the blend.
The color of a rosé wine comes from both the varietal it is made from and the way the wine is made. There are two primary ways to make rosé wines. With maceration, the grapes are pressed and sit on their skins, but for less time than when making a red wine. The saignée method is when approximately 10 percent of the juice will be bled off the fermenting grapes.
In Tavel, both methods are used. The grapes are picked and undergo cold maceration for 12-48 hours. The grapes are then fermented and pressed juice and drip juice are blended.
The resulting wines are salmon or deep ruby pink in color. They are wines of intense color, complex noses and powerful taste. The fruity notes evolve into notes of stone fruit and almond as well as spicy notes over time. According to sommelier Kelly McAuliffe who has been living in France for 25 years, “Tavel ages like no other rosé.”
Tavel can be enjoyed year ‘round. This “King of the Rosés” is a masculine rosé. Tavel wines have more body and structure than other rosés, and, in some ways, have the character of a red wine with less color. With more tannins, the Tavel wines pair with a variety of food, from bouillabaisse, sushi, grilled fish and seafood to salads, meats, cheeses and desserts.
Some Tavel wines to look out for:
Chateau d’Aqueria Tavel Rosé, Rhone, France (grenache, clairette, cinsualt, mourvedre, syrah, bourboulenc, picpoul) – Coming from grapes grown on the sandy clay hillsides, this wine is lighter in color and elegant in style with notes of bright red fruit.
Domaine de la Mordoree Cuvee La Reine des Bois Tavel Rosé, Rhone, France (60 percent grenache, 15 percent clairette, 10 percent cinsault, 10 percent syrah, 5 percent bourboulenc) – The grapes come from the Vallongue plateau with rounded cobblestones, which offer a little more weight and roundness to the wine. Light in color with notes of wild strawberry and sweet spice, the wine has bright acidity on the palate.
Prieure De Montezargues Tavel Rosé, Rhone, France (55 percent grenache, 20 percent cinsault, 8 percent clairette, 8 percent syrah, 9 percent mourvedre) – Grown in sandy soils, this wine is fresh with red candy and fruit notes and has finesse.
Domaine Maby Tavel Cuvee Prima Donna Rosé, Rhone, France (60 percent black grenache, 40 percent cinsault) – Grapes grown on the hillsides and plateau with rounded cobblestone, the resulting wine has notes of strawberry, cranberry and sweet red fruit.
Domaine L’Anglore Tavel Rosé, Rhone, France (primarily carignan with a blend of seven grapes) – This wine looks like a red wine and with the dark red fruit notes and tannins, tastes like one too.
Domaine Moulin La Viguerie Tavel Rosé, Rhone, France (grenache, cinsault, syrah, mourvedre, bourboulenc, clairette) – With grapes coming from slate, sand and rounded cobblestone, the resulting wine has notes of dark red fruit and spice with medium acidity and medium tannins.
Remember, do not judge a rosé by its shade of pink. No matter the color, ‘tis the season for rosé! So try one from Tavel, the King of Rosé.