If you’ve ever been to southern France, you know that rosé wines are the thing to drink there. Some of them are good, some of them are great, but the ones I most want to drink are Tavel.
Located on the right bank of the Rhone River, Tavel has just over 900 hectares of vines planted solely for the production of rosé. It’s a region with a long history, including the designation of the AOC status in 1936 when the system was first introduced. Tavel was one of only a few appellations to receive AOC status at that time. The wine of the region is also often credited as being favored by Louis XIV and Philippe le Bel.
But despite its rich history, Tavel isn’t a “household name” currently known by a lot of wine lovers — at least that’s been my experience here in the US. Yet they are producing some of the most spectacular rosé out there. Wines that have pronounced mineral characteristics, great balance, complex and enticing aromatics, crisp acidity and rich fruit flavors (while still being bone dry). These are wines to cherish and celebrate. And that’s why I wanted to visit and write about Tavel.
I visited Tavel a few weeks ago on a press trip with a group of other wine writers. The trip was sponsored by Syndicat Viticole de l’Appellation Tavel.
We started our visit by going out to the vineyards to see the land and learn about how it impacts the wine. I’ve often said that no matter how much I read about a wine region, I never truly understand it until I go there and experience it first hand.
There are three main types of soil in the region and each has a different impact on the wine.
- Sandy Soil: The vineyards with sandy soils are the original lands used for vineyards in the region. This isn’t sand like you would find on a beach, but is like broken down limestone mixed with a little bit of clay. The soil lacks organic materials and is only a couple feet deep before hitting bedrock. Wines made exclusively from grapes grown in this soil are said to be more elegant than others.
- Galets Roules: One of the most visually striking soils in Tavel is what locals call galets roules (or rolling stones). These are rounded river rocks that ended up in the area when the Rhone river flowed over these lands thousands of years ago. I was told that the Rhone was once some 20 kilometers wide! In the vineyard, the stones warm in the sun, providing extra warmth to the vines. After taking a short walk on them I can also say that I’m not envious of the workers who tend to those vines. It must be ankle-breaking work. Wine from these vineyards is said to have a rounder flavor.
- Lauses: The third type of soil is made up of brittle limestone and slate stones. It’s a stone full of color variations that is often quarried to be used in homes. Wines produced from vines grown in this soil are said to have more fruity aromas and intense mineral characteristics.
Most wines produced in Tavel are made from a blend of the three soil types, however you can find some wines produced from a single terroir.
In addition to the influence of the soils, I noticed that the brush growing around the vineyard (called “garrigue” by locals) was also quite fragrant with lots of thyme, juniper, rosemary and other herbs. I’ve commented before, such as after my visit to Mt. Etna, how those aromatics also tend to appear in the wines. And that was the case in Tavel.
The Wine… The Magical Wine
Here I am rambling on about soil types and garrigue, which don’t tell you a whole lot about the wine unless you go there to experience it yourself (which I highly recommend). So let’s talk about the wine a little bit.
When I was in Tavel, I sat across from Fabrice Delorme from Domaine de la Mordorée at lunch and he didn’t talk about wine. He talked about food and how it pairs with Tavel. And for good reason. Tavel is one of the most food-friendly wines I’ve had. It goes well with nearly anything, but is best with vegetables, seafood, spicy asian food, poultry and cheese. If you like wine and food pairings, you can find some great ones with Tavel.
Another thing that’s interesting about Tavel is that it’s one of the few rosé wines that can age well. I had an opportunity to taste a couple aged Tavel wines and they were spectacular! While you can buy Tavel while it’s still young, it’s suggested that most will be better with a year in the bottle and some will benefit from more ageing.
And if you’re not yet convinced that Tavel is worth a try, think about this: All wines produced in Tavel are rosé. Many rosé producers in other regions that aren’t exclusively rosé treat their rosé as a side project. In other words, it’s not the most important wine in their portfolio and they’re likely to dedicate their best vineyards to either red or white wines. But in Tavel they focus on one thing, and that thing is rosé.
In addition to the outstanding quality of the wines, another thing that I was pleased to find was the prices. While it’s not the cheapest rosé you can find, I found a number of them that were quite reasonably priced. Certainly there are many in the under $20 a bottle category. Some of the best values can be found at Les Vignerons de Tavel, a cooperative of about 60 growers. I tasted several of their wines, all of which were delicious and none of which were over 10 euros per bottle.
Ultimately, the only way for you to understand why you should be as excited by Tavel as I am is to taste a bottle. Here are a few suggestions of ones to try, although don’t limit your options to just these:
Château Trinquedevel Traditional Reserve 2013
If you only try one Tavel wine, this is the one to try. Of all the wines I tasted in Tavel, this is the one I went back to time and time again. I have found at tastings that there is often one bottle of wine that draws me in, that is even more magical than the others, that I keep going back to in order to taste again. In Tavel, it was this wine. Produced exclusively from sandy soil vineyards, this wine is very elegant and is absolutely delicious.
Domaine de la Mordorée La Reine des Bois 2013
This is one of the wines I had an opportunity to taste both the current vintage and an aged vintage. The current vintage was very good, but the aged vintage was exceptional. Get a bottle of this and stick it in your cellar for a few years. It will be worth the wait.
Domaine Maby Prima Donna 2013
Offering a good balance of fruit and mineral, characteristics this is a good representation of Tavel.
Domain Lafond Esprit de Roc Epine 2013
While most Tavel is produced in stainless steel, this one spent a little time in oak casks. If oak is your thing, you might prefer this style — which is a pretty unique thing, even in Tavel.
Les Vignerons de Tavel Les Lauzeraies 2013
From the cooperative I previously mentioned, this wine brings beautiful perfumed aromas and mineral.
I know this sounds like a total love-fest over Tavel. And if you’re skeptical you may think my praise is purely due to the fact that I visited there on a press trip. But I assure you, I’ve legitimately fallen in love with this wine and I’m putting my money where my mouth is and I’m stocking up on it. If you’re a fan of rosé (like I am) give Tavel a try. You won’t regret it.
Disclosure: I visited Tavel as a part of a sponsored press trip organized by Syndicat Viticole de l’Appellation Tavel. My local travel and accommodations were provided by the sponsors.