Only rosé wines can be labelled as AOC Tavel. The AOC is therefore the only appellation in the Rhône valley to produce nothing but rosé wine. But this is no ordinary rosé. The complexity of Tavel rosés are best appreciated with food. The rosé colouring of these wines can be expressed as either salmon or deep ruby pink. The complex nose of summer fruits evolve into smooth notes of pitted fruits and almonds, while the full, rounded mouth unveils a splendid aromatic ensemble supported by hints of spice.
Vines have been cultivated in the area since the 5th century BC. Planted by the Greeks, the vineyard expanded under the Romans. Located on a major communication route between the oppidum in Roquelmaure and Nimes, Tavel was the ideal location to develop. Various artefacts from this period have been found, including pieces of decorated amphora depicting grapes. However, the name villa tavellis, which would later become Tavel, appeared for the first time in 13th century writings.
In the middle of the 14th century, Pope Innocent VI, who had a particular predilection for the wines of the Rhône’s right-bank, had those of the Prieuré de Montézargues delivered for his personal pleasure. This winemaker still exists today at the heart of the Tavel AOC. Following the return of the Papacy to Rome and up until the Revolution, wines from Tavel and the region were exported to Italy. From 1737, a royal edict made it illegal to add foreign wines to those of Tavel, as well as four other towns in the Gard, and their winemakers were authorized to mark their barrels with C.d.R. (Côte du Rhône), thus setting the precedent that would become the AOC.
In 1902, Tavel winemakers formed a union of vineyard owner-winemakers. To build the reputation of their rosé wines, union members participated in various national and international fairs, including those in Lyon, Marseille, Strasbourg and Liege. Upon the suggestion of Baron Pierre Le Roy de Boiseaumarié, in 1927 the Chairman of the Union, Aimé Roudil, and forty Tavel winemakers petitioned the Gard courts to officially define the production area. The official notice was published on 19 November 1937.
Tavel winemaking country is composed of four different areas across 902 hectares. One alluvial area formed by the Rhône can be found on the hillsides of Lirac and Tavel AOCs in the form of ancient alluvial deposits that cover the lower and middle terraces. A sandy area follows, dating from the Mid-Pliocene era, lying between Tavel and Roquemaure. Marly limestone deposits from the Lower Barremian era form the Villeneuve les Avignon, Les Angles, and Tavel massif. A final area of upper Barremian urgonian limestone facies composes the Tavel-Rochefort du Gard massif. These are mainly crystalline limestones (clays and reefs) and gravelly limestone (clastic limestone).
The grapes are used exclusively to make rosé wines. A large number of grape varieties are authorized for this appellation, but no individual variety may exceed 60% of a vineyard. Nevertheless, Grenache is the base of Tavel wine. All varieties of Grenache (red, white, grey) together make up between 30% and 60% of planting.
A minimum density of colour is required for the AOC, so the juice of the red grapes undergo a much longer contact with the skins than is typical with other rosé wines. This longer maceration also imparts some tannin, thus contributing to the food-worthiness of Tavel rosé wines. Free-run and press wine are assembled before fermentation. The other main grape varieties include Cinsault, Bourboulenc, Clairette (pink and white), Mourvèdre, Picpoul (black, white, grey), and Syrah.