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Tavel: dry pink wine with character

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It goes with vegetable or white meat or fish salads; it works with many Asian dishes; it loves pan-fried or grilled fresh water fish or calamari and it sparkles with the classic southern fish soup known as bouillabaisse. It’s called Tavel rosé and it ain’t your daddys’ pink wine (or maybe it was if he was cool enough to know about it).

Tavel is a wine from southern France, specifically the Rhône Valley and more specifically from the right bank of that river near Avignon but across that water from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It’s an anomaly in the Rhône as it’s the only appellation which makes rosé wine exclusively.

“Rosé is a coward’s wine” said one of my mentors, “because it is afraid to be either red or white”. That’s one way to look at it. Another is to revel in the fact that this kind of pink wine is a great hybrid of good dry red and white wine. And “this kind of pink wine” has developed a reputation as the go to wine for hot weather drinking. We tend to avoid dry red in the summer because of their bitter tannins; but we also want more in our white wine than many can give. Hence, Tavel: the ultimate dry rosé.

All Tavels are dry. This means all the sugars from the grapes are transformed into alcohol—which stays in the wine-- and CO2, which dissipates. Given the warm climate of the area, this means Tavels weigh in at 13 to 14% alcohol and do not taste sweet like most pinkies.

Tavel is about 2,230 acres of vines spread across the village of Tavel and it neighbor, Roquemaure in the départément (or state) of France called the Gard (Chateauneuf, across the river to the east, is in the state known as the Vaucluse). It is exposed to much the same Mediterranean warm climate as its more famous neighbor and it shares its grapes: Grenache, Syrah, Bourboulenc, Clairette, Mourvèdre, etc. Hence, it tends to make wines of a fair amount of power (alcohols in the 13% range or more) and a good deal of flavor, meaning a good amount of skin contact (the flavor of a grape comes mainly from its skins).

Skin contact? Pink wines get their color from at least a portion of red grapes (in Tavel’s case, 6 of the 9 authorized grapes are red). There are many variations, but basically you make Tavel either by throwing red grapes in a vat and waiting for the juice to pick up the color from the skins and then draining the juice when the color is pink; or, you can press the red grapes slowly and get the resulting pigments therefrom. White grapes are thrown in for color stabilization and for acidity, which keep the wines fresh. Tavel is never made from blending white wine with red wine which is considered anathema among quality rosé producers everywhere.

There are about 3 dozen producers of Tavel, but the US sees only a handful, mainly from the larger estates. In a recent survey I found three, all from the 2013 harvest. Both the Château de Trinquevedel and the Château de Ségres are $18 and the Château de Manissy is $16. I’d also look for the Château d’Aqueria and the Château de la Mordorée.

If you run across any wines labeled Lirac Rosé (just a short distance from Tavel), they will be along the same lines.

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