I may as well admit it right away: I am not a great fan of rosé wines, as a rule. Of course there are some good ones, and I drink those with pleasure. But the current fashion (like most fashions in fact) for those wishy-washy but often over alcoholic rosés passes me by totally. No wines should be judged by their colour, or the lack of it. I thus admit to a slight bias here, but I will justify this as a reaction against the massive propaganda churned out by the producers (and some retailers) of pale rosé wines and their often stupid rejection of those rosés which show deeper hues. Because there is something absurd, and even totally dishonest, in making people believe that a rosé is better for being pale in colour. Do they really believe that alcohol goes hand-in-hand with colour in a wine? Because I cannot think of any other explanation for such silliness. Thus, when I was invited recently by the Tavel appellation (from the southern Rhône region) to taste a series of their wines, I trotted along gladly in the certainty that I would find wines not only with some depth of colour, but also with greater depth of flavour and complexity than is the case for most of those coming out of neighbouring Provence these days, not to mention the various pale imitators that keep arriving from elsewhere, since fashion seems to rule most people’s minds, in wine as elsewhere.
Tavel is a rare appellation in several ways. Not just because it covers quite a small area, but especially because it only exists for one colour and type of wine: dry rosés. What is even rarer, especially nowadays, is that the colour of these wines has to be deep to meet the local rules. So what are these rules? The Tavel production area lies just across the Rhône River from its prestigious neighbour, Châteauneuf-du-Pape which produces only white and, mainly, red wines. In fact I believe that the « rosé only » Tavel set-up was part of a deal made years ago with this bigger neigbour who did not want to be associated with the then low reputation for the pink stuff. The area covers about 930 hectares, almost all of which lie on the eponymous commune, plus a little on that of Roquebrune, just north of Avignon The wines must have an alcohol level of at least 11%, but they usually have quite a bit more these days. The authorized grape varieties are those of this region in general : Grenache (the most important), but also Cinsault, Mouvèdre, Syrah, Calitor and Carignan, for the red grapes, plus Clairette, Picpoul and Bourboulenc for the whites. I have never understood why the powers-that-be in Provence kicked up such a fuss about their wish to stop anyone from blending red and white wines to make rosé when all these southern appellations for that colour allow white grapes in their local rules. Another French paradox probably, but I cannot see what difference this makes.
My tasting of the 2017 and 2016 vintages (in the order of tasting)
Prieuré de Montézargues 2017: Rounded, with good, fullish fruit flavours. Pleasant wine (14,5/20)
Prieuré de Montézargues 2016: Similar style, very charming and easy to like, feels slightly warmer on the palate (14/20)
Château de Trinquevedel, cuvée traditionelle 2017: I found this unbalanced by its alcohol (12/20)
Château de Trinquevedel, cuvée traditionelle 2016: Better than the 2017, with a relatively firm finish (14/20)
Château d’Aqueria 2017: Very good. Juicy fruit flavours flow over one’s palate with a feeling of balance and freshness (16/20)
Château d’Aqueria 2016: Again plenty of fruit and depth here. Good length too, thanks to a pleasantly tactile finish (16/20)
Domaine La Rocalière, Le Classique 2017: Rather smoky in its aromas with a firm structure (14/20)
Domaine La Rocalière, Le Classique 2016: Also firm but seems a bit flat. Acceptable (13/20)
Domaine de la Mordorée, Reine des Bois 2017: This wine (and indeed this estate), was the star of the show for me! Beautiful liveliness, lots of intensity in its crisp flavours and very good balance and length (17/20)
Domaine de la Mordorée, Reine des Bois 2016: Beautiful nose with intense fruit aromas. Firm, fresh and long. needs to wait a little for the tannins to round out but would be fine with food (16/20)
Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine, Classique 2017: Acceptable but seems rather flat compared to most others (13/20)
Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine, Classique 2016: Rounded, supple and pleasant (14/20)
Château de Ségriès, 2017: Quite attractive with a pleasant hint of bitterness (that I like but which some might reject) that gives it good length (14,5/20)
Château de Ségriès, 2016: Similar style in a more austere vein. Well balanced though (14,5/20)
Vignobles et Compagnie, Les Combelles 2017: Very tough and unpleasant on account of far too much sulphides (8/20)
Vignobles et Compagnie, Les Combelles 2016: Slightly better now that the sulphur has subsided a bit (10/20)
Domaine Maby, Prima Donna 2017: The fruit seems rather harsh. Again over sulphured. (11/20)
Domaine Maby, Prima Donna 2016: same story as the 2017 (11/20)
Château de Manissy, Trinité 2017: Powerful and with a character that owes something to a touch of bitterness. Could please some (13,5/20)
Château de Manissy, Trinité 2016: Similar powerful style, with a touch of residual sugar I felt (13/20)
Maison Ogier, Etamines 2017: Quite good with devent fruit flavours and a firm finish (14/20)
Maison Ogier, Etamines 2016: The extra year has helped this find its point of balance (14,5/20)
Les Vignerons de Tavel & Lirac, Cuvée Royal 2017: A full-bodied and juicy style. Well made (15/20)
Les Vignerons de Tavel & Lirac, Cuvée Royal 2016: Another good wine, again full-bodied but with a more firmly structured finish than the 2017 (15/20)
Conclusions and my personal hit-parade if you are looking for a Tavel Rosé, in other words a rosé with character!
These wines have colour and character without them feeling, for the most part, heavy in any way. I love the juicy fruit flavours of the best of them and their deep colour gives me so much more visual pleasure than those watery pseudo-whites that have rosé as their name only.
1). Domaine de la Mordorée : 2). Château d’Aquéria : 3). Les Vignerons de Tavel & Lirac
Tavel and time
Some older vintages were also available for tasting, to show that good rosés, like other good wines, can last well. Not all of them had in fact, but I especially loved Trinquevedel 1990, and liked also the Vignerons de Tavel & Lirac Cuvée Royale 2013.
PS. I also heard very good things about a producer whose wines were not shown at this tasting and which I have never tried: Domaine l’Anglore. As these wines are sold under that meaningless banner « vins naturels » I am a little wary but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt until tried. Anyone tasted them out there?
And now a wine to be avoided!
On the subject of so-called « natural » wines, I was given to taste, just last Saturday, a wine called Château Le Puy 2015 (Côtes de Francs, Bordeaux) that seems to be in high fashion amongst some drinkers and retailers. It was so full of brettanomyces that it stank of an uncleaned stable, the texture was like sawdust and it was dry and chalky on the finish. How anyone can drink this kind of thing and say that they are enjoying themselves beats me entirely. And it costs about 25 euros a bottle!