It’s Spring in the Northern Hemisphere, which for wine writers means one thing: an inundation of Rosé samples and PR pitches. So I am here to remind you about the Southern Rhône’s answer to Rosé Spring Fever: Tavel.
You remember Tavel. It’s near Avignon. Wine has been produced there for centuries as a light-ish red. It’s one of the first Rhône crus, having become an AOC in the 1930s. It’s 100% rosé – 60% GSM, with a bunch of other (in typically Rhône-ish fashion, seemingly one billion) varieties allowed. It usually clocks in at 14% abv, and sports some of the deepest, darkest, sexiest shades of off-red in the wine world. It’s rosé with seriousness, versatility, and personality. It’s rosé that embraces its butch side. It’s f*cking great. And it’s a potentially endangered species: while there are currently 900 ha of vines in the region, that number is eroding slowly as (according to appellation co-president Thomas Giubbi) successive generations fail to take up the vine and wine work of their retiring parents. So you need to drink more of this stuff.
The key to understanding Tavel (at least, as I saw it when I I visited last year via media jaunt), is to realize that the region’s three soil types probably have the greatest impact on its realization of kick-ass rosé. As Domaine la Rocalière’s Sèverine Lemoine explained to me, “Other [Rhône] appellations have three colors, and one type of soil; we have one color, but three types of soil.”
Those (in)famous Rhône galets, brought from the Alps via the Rhône river, provide grapes with structure and power. Clay-rich limestone promotes freshness and spice notes. Finally, the oldest soils – Pliocene sand – offer fruit with finesse and fruitiness. Combined with a Mediterranean climate, you’ve got a compelling environmental mix for crafting a seemingly paradoxical ballsy rosé.
Here are a few examples from compelling Tavel producers that I visited. Assuming that you’re man or woman enough to handle the Sergio Oliva of pink wine, that is…
Chiara Condello grew up “ten minutes away” from Predappio’s Azienda Vitivinicola Condé, a place so picturesque – even by exceptionally picturesque Romagna standards – that it houses its own resort, which in turn houses its own restaurant in an area that’s nearly synonymous with Italian cuisine.
Condello’s father, Francesco, established this little slice of Napa-Route-29-in-the-heart-of-Romagna-wine-country in 2001, after retiring from real-estate finance brokering and consolidating nearly 80 hectares of vineyards (73 of which are devoted to Sangiovese, with a bit of Merlot and chardonnay making up the rest) from their previous owners.
The U-shaped Condé estate has 52 parcels, from which 7 wines are made, and boasts plantings dating back to the late 1930s on Spungone soils (sandy, sponge-like limestone rich in ancient seabed fossils) that date back a lot further (over three million years, to the Pliocene). In other words, it’s prime Sangio growing territory, with good winegrowing and winemaking talent behind it (including agronomist Federico Curtaz, eonologist Stefano Zoli, and Tuscan consultant Federico Staderini). Of course, they also have olive production. And, of course, they’re organic (“for me, it was crucial,” notes Chiara, “in terms of respect; I don’t want to change the balance that we have in the area”).
Chiara Condello has four acres of her own to play with on the estate, and has access to all of Condé’s winemaking resources. But before you write her off as embodying the stereotype of a modern European princess, you should know that Chiara studied Economics at Luigi Bocconi University in Milan; and got her CEMS Master in International Management; and is currently studying eonology; and seems to know what the hell she is doing when it comes to making Sangiovese (something that I learned firsthand when tasting these wines during a recent media visit)…
What gives one the impetus to isolate yeasts, experiment with, say, cumbersome large barriques, and pursue crafting world-class Sangiovese in a region best known for bulk wine? Probably having regional winemaking in your blood.
That’s the sense that one might take away from a visit to Tenuta Casali, in Romagna’s Mercato Saraceno, where Silvia, Francesco and Daniele Casali now work with the previous Casali generation, Valerio and Paolo, who themselves took over in the late 1970s from grandfather Mario, who farmed their alluvial, stony, and white clay soils since the 1940s as a grower. So there are five family members now involved directly, doing all of the normal family-winery stuff while also attempting the aforementioned experimentation/fine-tuning, and yet I got the impression that things were running well enough, and personally did not notice anyone trying to kill one another while I was there…
Tenuta Casali sits astride the Savio Valley, which itself sits astride Italy’s Appenine hills in Romagna, with approximately twenty hectares of vines (all but twenty percent of which are devoted to Sangiovese) in effect bordered by Tuscany and the Adriatic.
Their vineyard placement – which also enjoys an elevation of between 500 and 800 feet – seems to work some mighty Romagna magic on their Sangio fruit; their reds were some of the best that I tasted during my media trip to the region last year. Not that their whites are slouching, as we’ll get into, well, immediately…
When Fattoria Zerbina matriarch Cristina Geminiani talks about her Faenza area vineyards in Italy’s Romagna, she gives the distinct impressions that a) she knows what she is doing, and, b) isn’t prepared to take any sh*t about it.
At least, that’s the sense that I got when I got my feet into Zerbina’s 32 hectares of red clay and limestone soils during a recent press jaunt. Geminiani took over the reins of the family wine business (established in the `60s by her grandfather) in 1987, having studied at both the University of Milan and the University of Bordeaux.
Geminiani’s “puzzle” necessitates a pasticcio approach to crafting wine in this case, primarily from Romagna’s Sangiovese and Albana grapes) – combinations of alberello, gobelet, and trellised vine training, and often different pickings (sometimes within the same plots). Zerbina’s proximity to nearby rivers means that their Albana is prone to noble rot, which Geminiani understandably has totally run with for their passito wine, given her experience in Bordeaux.
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