2008 - a vintage you can actually drink, properly, without having your head taken off by the power of the wines. Refreshment, rather than an obstacle course. This is a real summer wine vintage, with rosés that can mostly be drunk as an aperitif. For that, we have to thank the indifferent summer 2008 weather, that rendered the Gard département, the right bank of the Southern Rhône, a major sufferer from mildew and rot on the vineyards in certain areas, notably around Bagnols-sur-Cèze.
The upside of this was that the whites and the rosés were harvested at correct, not overdone, ripeness, with sufficient acidity to allow clean palates and fresh lines of fruit. Good wine demanded serious attention from the growers - all the way from the vineyard into the cellar press. "2008 was more complicated than 2007 - we had to do a lot of sorting," stated Guillaum Demoulin of Château de Trinquevedel. "It is a vintage of freshness, fruit, good acidity, with less Grenache in it than 2007, which was a super, facile year."
Just as vineyard care needed to be vigilant, so work in the cellar needed to be precise. "2008 was a balancing act in the vinification of our Tavel, between the acidity, balance, ripeness and freshness," commented Séverine Lemoine of Domaine La Rocalière; "one point too much either way and you messed up getting the right assemblage."
Yields were inevitably lower than usual; Richard Maby reported a loss of 25% in 2008. But the wines will be on the market early, without undue need for time to come together. The very reliable Cave de Tavel found 2008 a more commercial year for Tavel than 2007 - meaning that the wines could go on to the market and be appreciated without any delay.
The Cave also stated that they had shortened their duration of skin maceration, down to 24 hours from 48 to 72 hours. They are thus seeking to make lighter wines, more in the mould of Provence rosés, wines which they see selling very well all around them in France and abroad. More orange hues, less red in the robes, and lighter flavours will be the result - fine up to a point, with the proviso that Tavel will be less typical of its place, its terroir, which goes back many more decades than any Provençal vineyard.
Get on and drink wines are therefore the hallmark of this vintage. I have also included some 2008 Lirac rosés that have performed well this year, judging from a relatively restricted range tasted in March 2009 in the region.
From the box below, the comparison with vintages since 2005 shows 2008 as a respectable vintage, with the much-lauded red wine year of 2005 as the lowest rated of the four. Acidity and freshness count for much if these wines are to give pleasure to their drinkers.
|2008||2.02 stars||25 wines|
|2007||2.26 stars||29 wines|
|2006||2.50 stars||24 wines|
|2005||1.71 stars||17 wines|
|***||Château de Manissy Cuvée des Lys||03/09, w.o.w.|
|Domaine de la Genestière Cuvée Raphaël||03/09|
|Les Vignerons de Tavel Les Lauzeraies||03/09|
|Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine||03/09|
|Domaine Maby Prima Donna||03/09|
|Domaine Le Malaven||03/09|
|Domaine de la Mordorée La Dame Rousse||03/09|
|Domaine Moulin-La-Viguerie Les Falaises de Braise||03/09|
|LIRAC Château Correnson||03/09|
|LIRAC Domaine Pelaquié||03/09, STGT|
|Château de Ségriès||03/09|
|Château de Trinquevedel||03/09|
|Domaine Amido Les Amandines||03/09|
|Domaine des Carabiniers||03/09|
|Domaine La Rocalière||03/09|
|Les Vignerons de Tavel Cuvée Royale||03/09, STGT|
|Les Vignerons de Tavel Cuvée Tableau||03/09|
|Prieuré de Montézargues||03/09|
|LIRAC Clos de Sixte||03/09|
|LIRAC Domaine Brice Beaumont||03/09|
|LIRAC Domaine du Joncier||03/09|
|*(*)||Domaine Maby La Forcadière||03/09|
This is a nice, regular vintage at Tavel. It is a little less souple or fat than the 2006, but drinks easily and clearly. The 2007 vintage really came together late in the ripening cycle, which of course suited growers making red wines: it allowed sugar and polyphenols (stems, skins) to ripen in some degree of harmony. Since the crop at Tavel these days is mostly harvested to make accessible rosé wines, it was improbable that a lot of the 2007s would be very deep in content.
The colours are a happy pink, offering the first and vital incitement to pick up the glass. The aromas are pretty pure and clean, and there is an important integration of fruit with acidity and above all with alcohol, the last-named something of a bugbear in recent vintages. I would call the vintage good and ripe.
"Our fermentation usually terminates by the end of October, but in 2007, it lasted until early January. I find that our usual aromas such as raspberry moved to agrume - such as pink grapefruit this year," commented Christope Delorme of the high profile Domaine de la Mordorée, makers of very full-bodied, robust Tavel.
Tavel is undergoing a risurgimento in the United States, and there is more momentum in the appellation than was the case in the 1990s and earlier. Younger growers have moved in or taken over, so there is an awareness of the need for better vineyard practices and more watchful winemaking. Greater elegance is often sought, which can divide local opinion. The traditionalists worry that this can be taken too far, with some domaines almost following a Côtes de Provence rosé path - lightening them to just the status of a simple aperitif wine.
I would agree that Tavel needs core body, to reflect its place. Terroir may not be the first instinct for drinkers supping up the rosé, but there is a heritage here - one of providing full-bodied rosés that accompany the classic Mediterranean cooking of both summer and winter. To marry well with garlic, olives, herbs, olive oils, the wines need unctuosity, as they do if drunk with meats such as lamb or kid, or full-flavoured fish such as tuna. Dishes such as the salt cod-based brandade or the olive-based tapenade, even a soup au pistou, a more autumn vegetable soup based around basil and pine nuts (aka pesto in Genoa), all show off very well with a good Tavel.
A recent good marriage was at Tavel in June 2008, when the Domaine de la Genestière classic cuvée (not the Raphaël) glided along with a verrine of salmon - a carpaccio of raw salmon - served with mint, pineapple, lettuce and chives. While some domaines, notably the Château d`Aquéria, have moved in 2007 towards a fresher, lighter style of Tavel for early drinking, others, such as the classic Prieuré de Montézargues and the Château de Trinquevedel both recommend their wine be drunk after about one year, when it starts to really get going. Growers will also tell you that as Tavel ages, it goes well with spiced dishes.
Tavel's patrimony goes back to well before the attack of phylloxera in the 1870s; in 1828, there were nearly 730 hectares of vines. Today that figure is 935 hectares, stable for the past 20 years or so. Many of the old sites have now been replanted, and they are led by the relatively high, open and windy plateau of Vallongue and the more sandy areas closer to the village, with the limestone lauzes (white stones) areas of Vaucrose also prominent.
Grenache is by law the majority grape, contributing often 50-60% of the wine. The Cinsault, a classic rosé variety with its soft, scented appeal and pale colour, is also in strong support - at most 20-30%. In a soft vein, too, comes the white grape Clairette, some of its older vines being the pink version, the Clairette rose. There is also a sound following for the Syrah and the Mourvèdre among the more modern of outlook - those who wanted in the 1980s and 1990s to make more obviously robust wines with a darker, more red colour: followers of fashion, one could say.
The wines are made by a mix of direct press or bleeding off - saignée - with a short stay on the skins. It is thought that the first blocking of the malolactic fermentation occurred in the 1970s - the objective being to achieve more freshness and to allow the wines to stay alive for longer. I can certainly recall the colour of Tavel in the 1970s as often being what was then a perfectly acceptable orange or onion skin colour. The wines were less notably pink to the eye than today, and were probably a bit more oxidative to a modern palate.
What has thumped into town since the 1970s is the high alcohol levels of the past eight to ten years. Rosé at 14.5°to 15.5° is not the joy or pleasure intended; the thought of rosé summons up conviviality, outdoor dining, warm climes, and not an assault course or threat to the bon mot, whispered aside or frisky instinct.
Thus there are definite challenges ahead for growers - to achieve ripeness in their crop, but not serve up whacking great henchmen. The planting of white varieties such as the Picpoul or Bourboulenc, and more use of Cinsault can act as a partial solution.
Another development looming into view in 2007 is that of the second cuvée, or should I write the super-cuvée? If the main cuvée - the regular, most copious one - is superseded by a more expensive one of limited edition, does the regular one become the second wine? The appearance of Prima Donna at Domaine Maby, Perle de Culture at Domaine La Rocalière and Les Vignes d'Eugène at Château de Trinquevedel - all first-rate domaines - is unsettling. What is the purpose? And what about the heart of the regular wine, presumably without this good input for which more money is charged?
For interest`s sake, I have rated the Prima Donna a notch below the classic Maby (***(*) versus ****), the Perle de Culture below the classic Rocalière (** versus ***) and the Eugène of Trinquevedel had problems with both bottles submitted. These wines were all tasted blind, I should add.
On my new statistical review, the last three vintages at Tavel run as follows
29 wines, 2 not rated = 27
24 wines tasted
17 wines tasted
The 2007 Tavels tasted, in order of preference, have been as follows:
Domaine La Barrière ***(*)
Domaine de la Genestière ***(*)
Domaine Maby Prima Donna ***(*)
Domaine Moulin-La-Viguerie ***(*)
Domaine Corne-Loup **(*)
Domaine de la Mordorée **(*)
Prieuré de Montézargues **(*)
Palai Mignon **