Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Pink Wine From Tavel With Kelly McAuliffe

There's a lot to learn about French wine and the regions from which they come.  It's a daunting task for many novice wine lovers.  Fortunately, there are opportunities to be instructed by experts.

The French Wine Society held a tutored tasting and masterclass April 25, 2012 in Los Angeles at the Hotel Wilshire.  American sommelier Kelly McAuliffe led the class of three dozen or so through a lesson and tasting of the wines of Tavel.

McAuliffe has been the sommelier for upper-tier restaurants in Las Vegas, Paris, Monte Carlo and Avignon.  He is a respected expert in the wines of the Rhône Valley and serves as a consultant to Inter-Rhône and other French wine agencies.  He also conducts guided wine tours of the Rhône Valley.  His passion for the rosés of Tavel are unabashed.

He summarized the challenges faced by Tavel producers in the global market by noting that "the horror of White Zinfandel has made it difficult to get people drinking dry rosé."  Dry rosés like the ones made in the Tavel region of the southern Rhône are "perfect for anywhere the weather is hot," said McAuliffe.  But he notes that when it comes to roses that are rich in color - like those of Tavel - the perception, "particularly among women, is that the wines are higher in alcohol and calories than the lighter-hued rosés of Provence.  That is not the case."

In Provence, rosés are made by the direct press method, which minimizes the grape skin’s contact with the juice.  For the grapes used to make rosé wines, the color is contained in the skin of the fruit.  Pressing the grapes without any skin contact produces a much lighter color in the wine than in the maceration process used in Tavel, in which the juice and skins are allowed to mingle together for a day or two.

McAuliffe presented a detailed look at the terroir of Tavel, showing it to be one of the warmest climates in France - second only to Languedoc - and possessing soil types that tend to produce wine rich in aromatics and minerality.

In the northern Rhône, granitic soils and steep hills are the rule, while in the south the land is flatter.  The southern Rhône was once an ocean - millions of years later it became a lake which eventually dried up.  The soils there are typical of this type of geological evolution.  The limestone of the ancient seabeds is what gives Tavel's dirt its demeanor.

Galets Roulés - This literally means “rolling stones,” rocks which have been rounded and smoothed by being swept along a in glacial flow.  These rocks are common in the southern Rhône, especially in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  The rocks hold heat, which helps give concentration to the grapes, and a higher alcohol content and tannic structure to the wine.

Garrigue - The wild-growing, aromatic vegetation on the alkaline rock soil imparts acidity, aroma and mineral notes to the grapes.

Red Clay - This clay-based soil is water retentive and iron rich, and gives power, tannins and age-worthiness to the wine.

Loess/Molasse - Wind-blown silt and sand provides warmth and fast draining.  Floral reds made to be consumed young are popular in this type of soil. Wines made from grapes grown in it are marked by freshness, finesse and elegance.

You can also  factor in the Mistral to the southern Rhône’s terroir.  This cold, dry northerly wind blows ferociously across the land at speeds of up to 60 mph for 130 days a year.  That's why vines are trained closer to the ground in the southern Rhône.  That’s also why the Dentelles-de-Montmirail Mountains are topped with a distinctive, bare rock ridge - the Mistral has blown the vegetation away over time.

McAuliffe displayed a Google Earth photo which clearly showed the different soils of Tavel appearing as different shades in the satellite image.

Although McAuliffe maintains that wines from Tavel are age-worthy, he also cites that “most Tavel wine is consumed between April and August.

There were several Tavel rosés poured and tasted by the group:

Flight 1

Domaine de Tourtouil 2010
light pink color, gentle strawberry nose, good tannic structure, melon, cherry, minerals on palate

Domaine Le Vieux Moulin 2010
medium deep pink, herbal element on a Jolly Rancher nose,  smooth mouth, watermelon, strawberry

Domaine Moulin La Viguerie 2010
magenta, fruity cherry nose,  cherry and minerals, good tannins, acidity

Flight 2

Château de Trinquevedel 2011
salmon color, strawberry ,cherry nose,  great acidity, flinty edge to strawberry on palate

Domaine de la Mordoree - La Dame Rousse 2011
light salmon hue, great acidity, big cherry palate, minerality and tannins outstanding

Domaine Maby - Prima Donna 2011
deep salmon color, much rounder mouth, very full, great cherry, strawberry palate

Château d'Aqueria 2011
magenta color, earthy cherry nose, very full mouth with strawberry and minerals on palate

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