A Rosé in Winter, Try the Tavel

by Jeff Harding
February 2012

Left is right, and wine is pink. Welcome to French wine region of Tavel, on the sloping right bank of the Rhone (yes, it’s west of the river, but when “naming” a river bank, you have your back to the river’s source—the Alps up north). At a recent luncheon and seminar presented by the French Wine Society, Director of Education Lisa Airey led us through a wonderful summary of the history and geography of the only wine that can be called Tavel: rosé. Although it’s often associated with summer (and many purists won’t drink it after Labor Day), a hearty rosé is a perfect wine to drink all winter long.

For starters, a diverse meal at a restaurant can make for a difficult wine pairing (Table 16: spicy razor clams and beef carpaccio, seats 1 and 2), and sometimes it’s just too easy to grab a bottle of Pinot Noir. I would suggest before winter gives way to spring and summer, we remind ourselves of the joys and overlooked potential of rosé. Added bonus? Exploring these rosés means a chance to play the game of “name all the grapes in Châteauneuf-du-Pape,” as nine of the CDP grapes are grown in Tavel.


Kingly Terroir
The unique history and classic wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape have always overshadowed those of Tavel, but the Avignon popes quickly discovered the wines of the area, and Tavel rosé became known as “The King of Rosés.” The geology of this relatively small AOC is richly diverse and deserves attention because the different combinations of sandy soil, galets, limestone, and clay all interact for different effects. Sandy soil is the easiest for growing vines, resulting in easy drinking, light structure, and subtle aromas. Sand and limestone soil produces more acidity, and the sand-clay mixture found on the lower slope produces wine with more grip. Finally, the galet stone keeps the ground warm longer than in other areas, allowing more time for the fruit to ripen, resulting in bigger wines than those typically produced in sandy soil vineyards.

Color Blind
A quick warning about color in rosés: don’t be fooled. The shade of pink in rosé is a result of many factors: grape varieties, ripeness, temperature at harvest, length of maceration, and oxygen exposure. Tavel tastings are often done in black glasses to arrest expectations over lighter or darker hues—in fact sometimes the lightest pink wine has the best heft and structure. After you taste a few, you’ll understand why it’s called “the reddest pink you’ll ever drink.”

I’m No Pope, But I Like These:

Mordoree Tavelrose
Prieure de Montezargues: Grown on sandy soil and thus relatively light in structure and texture, this is a beautiful salmon color rosé with delicate but subtle aromas of citrus and red fruit, followed by a long lasting finish of raspberries and strawberries, with a rich, creamy mouthfeel. ($20 retail)

Chateau d'Aqueria
Chateau d’Aqueria: A sand-clay mixture in the soil produces a more structured wine here, and the Syrah and Mourvèdre contribute to a darker pink color. I like this wine very cold, which subdues the aroma, but there’s plenty of watermelon and crisp red cherry notes to entice you, followed by the berry and dark cherry flavors, the fruity delivery promised by the color. ($18 retail)

Mordoree Tavelrose
Domaine de la Mordorée: The woodcock (mordorée) on the label is the first hint that it’s a little more of a rustic wine, and sure enough, the mixture of galet, sand, and clay here make the roots work a little harder, so you get more extraction from the soil. Floral notes and a whiff of pomegranate combine with dried red fruits on the palate for a big dinner wine with a long finish (the black glass tasting method might make you think this was a red wine!). ($23 retail)

Domaine Maby
Domaine Maby, La Forcadiere: This wine is an example of a lighter pink belying a bigger tannic structure and taste, due to the galet soil content. Garrique herbiness and white flowers on the nose lure you into big, long-lasting red fruit and a spicy finish. ($20 retail)

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