The rosés of Tavel were a favourite drink amongst the likes of Honoré de Balzac and Louis XVI. American journalist A.J. Liebling who reported on the liberation of Paris in 1944 also wrote of Tavel rosés in his Paris memoir, Between Meals. More recently, wine writer and author Jay McInerney reminded us that Tavel, as Liebling stated, is a “debilitating pleasure.”
Although rosé is made in many parts of the world now, Tavel, in the south of France, is the motherland of rosé. Tavel only makes rosé and has been doing so for hundreds of years. As Rolf Bichsel, who wrote on the people and wines of Tavel, concludes, Tavel is “the greatest rosé in France.”
So if you like rosé, Tavel and neighbouring Lirac (which also produces some rosé) on the west bank of the Rhône River are crucial to visit, if only by the glass (or bottle).
Tavel is in the sunny Southern Rhône and just to the north of Avignon. I was told once that as you drive south through the Rhône Valley you’ll notice when you arrive in the Southern Rhône because the grey skies open up and the sun glistens through—something I found to be true. The landscape is dotted with cherry and fig trees as well as galets (large pebbles) in the vineyards and is the perfect landscape for drinking rosé.
Tavel rosés are dry, structured, deeply coloured pink wines made principally from Grenache and Cinsault though other grape varieties are permitted in the blend. In fact, in Tavel 9 varieties are permitted: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Carignon, Picpoul and Calitor.
Tavel rosés are full-bodied, intensely flavoured of red berry fruits, and although they are typically drunk young, some can age. Tavel can develop savoury characteristics and the garrigue (the thyme, rosemary and lavender bushes that grow on the arid hillsides) aromas reveal a strong sense of place. Tavel also has a spiciness and a bitterness that balances the stone fruit flavours and slight impression of sweetness from the Grenache.
Tavel rosés are extremely food-friendly. As I read Bichel’s recommendations for Tavel food pairings, I don’t think any major world cuisine did not appear as a possible marriage for Tavel. Bichel justifies such diverse food-pairing suggestions on the facts that Tavel is “complex but not complicated” and that it “combines the advantages of a white wine and those of a red wine, but knows how to circumvent their disadvantages.”
So Tavel can accompany smoked salmon, ratatouille, paella, Indian curries, pizza, scallops, tagines, roast Bresse chicken…. At renowned Domaine de la Mordorée, I loved their suggestions for Tavel food pairings, which included seafood and Chinese flavours.
Like the aromas of Tavel, the people of Tavel are generous. There is a warm spirit in the area, and just outside famed Château d’Aquéria, I could envision myself having a picnic of cold grilled salmon and capers with potato salad and, of course, a bottle of Tavel.
Feature photo: Domaine de la Mordorée (Mordorée is the name of a bird that is hunted and which is the symbol of the winery and is honoured on their wine bottles.)