Although Tavel is technically a southern French, and Rhône rosé, it has a very clear identity of its own, and is traditionally the darkest style of rosé found in the south. In style it is close to a clairet, a historic style of light red which was once common throughout Europe. The wines of Tavel were singled out early on as a wine of repute, and were served at the nearby papal court in Avignon. Like neighbouring Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Tavel traditionally includes many varieties, including red and white grapes, and is among the country’s more flexible appellations. Whereas other rosé-producing regions have only come to the fore in the recent boom, Tavel is unequivocally historic and prestigious. It is also famous for its age-worthiness – we recommend waiting at least a couple of years.
The original area in the south consists of fairly flat sandy fields, chalky with little gravel, which are easy to cultivate and good for ripening. Vines here do better in warm, drier years. Grapes from this area give finesse and elegance, and slightly lower alcohol. The lightness of grapes from here seems to benefit the most from maceration, and works beautifully with lighter, floral grapes such as Cinsault. Good examples of the sandy terroir include the ranges of Château Trinquevedel and Château Manissy.
To the west of the village lies a wide, gentle valley or depression, known as the Combe de Malaven or the Vallat de Malaven. More commonly, it is simply referred to as les Vestides, the name of the largest lieu-dit (locality), or les Lauzes, a reference to its stony limestone (or ‘lauze’) soil. The depth and composition of the soils in this part of the appellation is the most varied. Patches of red clay are scattered throughout, and the limestone varies from large gravel to rather large boulders. The poor, alkaline soil produces easily recognisable wines with vibrant acidity and lots of elegant, juicy red fruit. Cinsault is more common here. Good examples are Gaël Petit’s La Combe des Rieux and the cooperative Les Vignerons de Tavel & Lirac’s Les Lauzeraies.