(© Christophe Grilhé)
Tavel is an appellation of the southern Rhone valley, unique in its specialization in dry rosé wines. The vineyards that produce the appellation's wines are located around the town of Tavel, just south-west of Orange and north-west of Avignon.
The soils here are mostly stony and sandy and boast excellent drainage qualities, which force the vines to dig deep, strong root systems in search of water and nutriment. There are areas of limestone which generate the lighter, more-delicate element of the otherwise robust rosés, and patches of red, iron-rich soils which fill out the palate with richer, earthier notes.
A hot, dry Mediterranean climate means that the grapes have no difficulty in reaching full phenolic ripeness here. It is this that brings the unique depth of flavor to the resulting wines, coupled with extended skin contact during fermentation. Soaking the skins of the red grapes with the juice allows it to develop the deep pink color and higher tannin levels characteristic of Tavel wines.
The wines are made predominantly from the Grenache, Syrah and Clairette varieties and are intended to be drunk chilled, as a more complex alternative to white wines during the hot summer months. Much of the output is released as 'Primeur' wine, as early as the third Thursday in November – a date imposed by appellation laws across France and applied more famously to the Beaujolais Nouveau. These wines in particular are consumed chilled and are not suitable for ageing. Standard Tavel rose, when cellared correctly, will improve for several years in bottle.
The popularity and renown of these rosés have led to an increase in the area devoted to its production and sometimes inordinate price hikes. The popularity of the wine style reached its peak in the middle of the 20th Century, and is increasing again in the early years of the new millennium.