Tavel: A new look at an old rosé

Davies Wakefield

davies wakefield | wine uncorked | may 2019

If a person over the age of 50 ever tells you that they have no regrets about their past life, they are either lying or haven't done anything with that life. One of the “gifts” of old age besides the cold friction of expiring senses is “the rending pain of re-enactment of all that you have done, and been” as T.S. Eliot put it. Well, I have some regrets about putting down rosé in my last column. I was in a local wine store in a supermarket the other day and noticed that the various wine distributors were taking all the previous months dogs that I pointed out and other rosés off the shelves and into grocery carts. I talked with the beverage manager at the store and she told me, “I'm getting rid of all my losers.”

Unfortunately, some really nice wines got thrown out with the bathwater, but that is the nature of any business including the wine business. When someone comes along with a better but cheaper product in a free society, people will buy it. In retrospect, I think there were two things that precipitated the glut of Provencal rosé. The first was Sacha Lichine's Whispering Angel Rosé, which he sells for over $50 a bottle; when asked about it, Sacha, son of the late Bordeaux impresario Alexis Lichine, responded that he wanted to create “the most expensive rosé in the world.” The other impetus was the offering of the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie Rosé Miraval, which sells for over $20 a bottle. The last time I checked Brangelina wasn't a thing anymore. Culturally these high priced rosés coincided with another lunatic movement to create the most expensive – oh you name it: hamburger, sneakers, $1,000 ice cream sundaes and other ridiculous items that mimic the tulip mania of Holland in the 1600s. Thankfully, I think this craze is ebbing.

As I walked through the aisles of replacement rosé wines, I noticed that among the replacement wines was a real gem of a rosé that had not been on those stores shelves before. It is a wine that had practically been forgotten in the rush to buy anything from Provence. Tavel is not a pale pink wine like the rosés of Provence. It has a delightful soft red color, almost a pastel. It reminds me of some of the Door County cherry wines and has a beautiful color in the glass. The story of how this wine is still around after 600 years is intriguing.

The Tavel AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) is an extremely small area of 933 hectares (2,000 acres) across the Rhone River from Châteauneuf du Pape. In Tavel, there are three types of soil; one west of the village is dominated by limestone and slate, here, low-yielding vines give deep and aromatic wines. Another type is the flat, sandy, rocky fields, easy to cultivate and good for ripening. The third is dominated by galets roulés, the smooth round stones also found in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and is located east of the town in the direction of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Grenacheand Cinsaultare the main grapes used in the appellation's wines, along with SyrahandMourvedre, although the latter two were not permitted until 1969. Tavel wines are dry and tend to have more body and structure than most rosés. They can be cellared but are usually drunk young.

The wine of Tavel is historically famous. Philip IV or Philip the Fair who was the king of France from 1285 to 1305 is supposed to have travelled through Tavel on one of his tours of the kingdom. He was reportedly offered a glass, which he emptied without getting off his horse and afterwards proclaimed Tavel the only good wine in the world. The Sun King, Louis XIV, who reigned over France for 72 years from 1643 to 1715 is also supposed to have been fond of the wine, which helped maintain its reputation until the vineyards were affected by thephylloxera epidemic. The French novelist Honoré Balzac who wrote the post-Napoleonic panorama of life in France “La Comédie Humaine” was born in Tarn – just south and west of Tavel – was an enthusiast. Ernest Hemingway, who lived in the Latin Quarter of France and had moved to Paris because “it was where the most interesting people in the world lived” was a prodigious Tavel drinker. Tavel achieved AOC status in 1936 when the system was introduced. At that point the grapes were mostly grown on the sandy flatlands closer to town, where vines were easier to cultivate but produced a lower quality of wine. In 1965 the hillsides were cleared of forest and prepared for growing vines. As the vines moved up the slopes the quality of the wines increased as well. In Tavel, some of the must is kept with the skins longer and then blended into the lighter must, which is what makes the wine more powerful, more tannic and darker than other rosés. The potential alcohol is high, with an upper limit of 13.5 percent for the appellation. All three of my selections are at the 13.5 percent level which is different than the lighter Provencal rosé which I've seen as low as 11 percent. While the higher alcohol makes the wine heartier it certainly doesn't take away from the refreshing style and is more appropriate for grilled foods.

The first wine is the Château de Trinquevedel, a Kermit Lynch selection available at Woodman's and Ridgeview Liquors for about $17. Any bottle of wine with the Kermit Lynch selection label on it will assure the purchaser that the bottle will provide pleasurable drinking. It's like seeing USDA Choice on a package of beef. When Tavel was given its own AOC designation in 1936, Eugéne Demoulin bought this 18th-century chateau. The place was in a state of disrepair after 50 years of abandonment. It took 24 years to get wine worthy of Tavels 16th century greatness. Today, fourth generation Demoulin Guillame runs this grand cru vineyard of 32 hectares with the help of his wife, Céline. The vineyards are on the hillsides of Montagne Noire (Black Mountain). The vineyards soils resemble Chateauneuf du Pape with sand, quartz and the ubiquitous galets roules(rounded stones). The blend is 45 percent Grenache, 24 percent Cinsault, 15 percent Clairette, 10 percent Mourvèdre and six percent Syrah. The grapes are cold macerated for 12 to 48 hours in cement cuvées. The wine is aged in stainless steel cuvéesfor six to nine months and does not undergo malolactic fermentation. Malic acid is the acid that gives the mouth puckering effect in a Granny Smith apple. By leaving the acid in the wine, Trinquevedel is providing the refreshing quality to the wine that goes well with summer heat.

The Moulin la Viguerie is about $18 at the Main Street Market in Egg Harbor. The Petit-Roudil family has been producing Tavel wines since the 16th century. Aimé Roudil (1870-1938) was the owner who restored the estate after the phylloxera infestation wiped out the vineyards. He was a towering figure in Tavel and as President of the Tavel Syndicate, he was responsible for the establishment of the boundaries of the Tavel AOC the way it is today. Aimé's great-granddaughter Mireille Roudil and her husband, Gael Petit manage the domaine now. The vineyard is 15 hectares (34 acres) and the blend is 50 percent Grenache, 30 percent Cinsault, 10 percent Syrah, 10 percent Mourvèdre, Bourbolenc and Clairette. Short low-temperature maceration is followed by 10-12 day fermentation in stainless steel. The wine spends six months in cement tank (cuvées) before final blending. This process is 180 degrees opposite of Trinquevedel (cement first then stainless). This wine is my favorite of the tasting and I'm looking forward to some happy times on the back porch with more than one glass of it.

The Domaine Lafond Tavel is about $20 at the Main Street Market in Egg Harbor. I couldn't find any information online about this wine but trust me, it is a very good wine. I know that Kaaren, the wine manager at Main Street Market, has a good palette for fine wine and personally tastes all the wines along with the Casten family members. The taste of this wine is a bit different. I believe that part of the wine may have undergone malolactic fermentation which makes it a bit softer than the previous wines. This was my wife's favorite of the tasting. Good stuff.

When I started writing this review the ground was covered in snow. Today, as I finish, we are getting our first thunderstorm of the year. It won't be long till the rosé will be flowing again.

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