Wines of the Roussillon
Way back when the Romans were here, Languedoc-Roussillon was one of the first regions of France to grow grapes. Some argue the vine took root even earlier with the Greeks. Regardless of the very first vintage, it’s safe to say the fruit has had quite a long time to balance itself with the soil. But like the peoples who have come and gone since Greek and Roman times, the wine economy here has had its ups and downs.
While the northern Languedoc part of the region has made a recent humble name for itself, our most southerly part of the region is still redefining its image. Aside from the centuries old glorious sweet wines from the appellations of Maury, Banyuls and Rivesaltes, Roussillon has traditionally been known for quantity over quality, with large cooperatives producing rustic table wines suitable only for the masses.
But the last decade or so has seen a dramatic shift in the style and elegance of dry Roussillon wines. A new emphasis on smaller estates, lower yields, organic practices, and high quality wines has taken hold. Mix that with southern French soils seemingly made for vines, modern wine-making techniques, and the absence of confining reputations that come with appellations from regions like Bordeaux or Burgundy, and you have the perfect grounds for exciting experimentation. Roussillon wines are bold, authentic and traditional all at once–a true celebration of the south of France. We look forward to sharing a few bottles with you.
A Few Details for Appreciation
The appellations of our wine-making region of Roussillon are situated between the Mediterranean and the Corbières, Aspres and Albères mountain ranges, granting a great variety of soils, minerals and altitudes. Our overall vine-growing region can be broken down into three distinct zones: the Agly valley, the Roussillon plain and the seaside hills from Collioure to Banyuls. Following are the appellations to be found in these zones.
Dry wine Roussillon appellations:
Collioure (white, rosé, red)
Côtes du Roussillon (white, rosé, red)
Côtes du Roussillon Les Aspres (red)
Côtes du Roussillon Villages (red)
Côtes du Roussillon Villages Caramany
Côtes du Roussillon Villages La Tour-de-France
Côtes du Roussillon Villages Lesquerde
Côtes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel
Sweet fortified Roussillon appellations:
Rivesaltes (amber, garnet, tuilé, hôrs d’age)
Maury (red, tuilé)
Banyuls (white, rosé, amber, red, tuilé)
Muscat de Rivesaltes (white)
There are also several defined Vins de Pays areas in Roussillon. Vins de Pays labels are usually reserved for the lesser distinctive wines of a region. But in Roussillon some of the more interesting wines are being produced under Vins de Pays to escape appellation rules regarding grape varieties and blend percentages. Vins de Pays des Côteaux des Fenouilledes is an example of one where truly exciting wines are being produced. There are around 15 different grape varieties found in Roussillon today.
Roussillon reds: grenache (noir, gris, blanc), carignan, lladoner pelut, cinsault, malvoisie du Roussillon, syrah, mourvèdre, cabernet, merlot
Roullisson whites: grenache (noir, gris, blanc), macabeu, roussane, marsanne, vermentino, sauvignon, chardonay, viognier
A Tour of Mediterranean Vines
The Pyrenees become steep foothills on the eastern side of mount Canigou. From there they walk toward the Mediterranean where they take on a more civilized aura with olive trees, cork oaks and endless grapevines covering the hillsides. Terraced vineyards drop dramatically into blue-green waters calling up Grace Kelly scenes from the south of France.
The seaside villages of Cerbère, Banyuls-sur-Mer, Port-Vendres and Collioure make up the Collioure (dry) and Banyuls (sweet) appellations. The stunning setting here lends itself well to slowly discovering the areas vines and wines on foot or by bicycle. It’s a unique landscape hand-sculpted by the growers themselves—6,000 kilometers of stone wall terraces winding up and down slopes so steep there is little choice but to cultivate manually. Aromas of wild lavender and fennel scent these Mediterranean hills.
Try a crisp Collioure white with grilled fish and Catalan roasted vegetables with olive oil. Or sample a rosé, the perfect summer wine to enjoy with tapas or grilled escargot and aioli. The Collioure reds pair well the regional meats like rosée des Pyrénées beef or grilled saucisse de Toulouse.
The Banyuls appellation is known for its exceptional white and red sweet fortified wines. Grand cru’s are made here with low yields and old vines. Mix savory with sweet and try a glass with foie gras, farm chicken or Roquefort cheese. Or indulge with heavenly dark chocolate, strawberries or melon.
Discovering the Roussillon Plain
After powering up one of the hill climbs on our tours, you can usually see the Roussillon plain stretching out below–Mount Canigou and the Aspres frame the western side of the plain and the Alberes form the southern edge, while the Corbieres mountains frame the north, and the Mediterranean to the east completes the frame. This rolling plain varying in soils, terrain and climate has the feel of one large undulating vineyard.
Bicycle is the best way to discover the wine villages of the plain that comprise the Cote du Roussillon appellation and the the Rivesalte appellation. Here you’ll find a wide ranging selection of dry reds, whites and rosés, as well as the sweet fortified Rivesaltes wines.
Young reds from this area accompany any meal, the fuller-bodied ones going well with l’agneau Catalan or perhaps wild game. Try the whites and rosés with fresh oysters from Leucate or Spanish jamon iberica. Some of our favorite affordable bottles are coming from this area, most notably from the slopes a little higher on edge of the Alberes. Mourvedre is a finicky red grape that does especially well here with appropriate sun-facing and the climactic influences of the Mediterranean.
The sweet Rivesaltes wines come in amber, garnet or tuilé, and depending on the style, have bouquets of dried fruit and orange, or for the ruby colored garnets, notes of mahogany and chocolate. The Muscat de Rivesaltes appellation, aka Roussillon gold, is a distinctive sweet wine made from muscat d’Alexandrie and muscat a petits grain grapes. These refreshing wines are known for their floral, citrus and exotic fruit bouquets. Try one with a lemon tart or as an afternoon aperitif.
Venturing to the Agly Valley
The arid hills of the Fenouilledes are home to some of Roussillon’s most experimental and surprisingly fine producers. Between Mediterranean scrublands and rock outcroppings crowned with ancient Cathar castles you’ll find vines that are producing red wines of notable character. Four separate appellations have been distinguished for their quality and original personality here: Côtes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Lesquerde, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France and Côtes du Roussillon Villages Caramany.
Made from carignan, grenache noir, lladoner pelut, syrah and mourvèdre the Côtes du Roussillon Villages produce only reds and are known for their complexity and fullness. These reds are not to be sipped alone, but should be enjoyed with game and other dishes with solid character.
The Maury appellation is also found in the Agly valley, historically famous for its exquisite sweet fortified wines. However, these days, high quality dry wines can be found in the area as well. The dark sweet wines of Maury have aromas of crushed black fruits and go well with goat cheese or Roquefort. The white sweet wines are made from grenache blanc and feel lighter and a little more fresh. Maury bottles can be kept for 20 years and longer.
Other Roussillon Refreshers
Besides a wide variety of wines, Roussillon is also home to other local beverages. The natural mineral water Semillante is bottled near Perpignan in the village of Toulouges. The same bottling company also produces Cat Cola, a popular Catalan soft drink. The Brasserie des Alberes in Argeles produces its own version called Alter Cola, along with the artisan beer Cap d’Ona. Try the white, the blond, banyuls, amber or the pure malt organic. Or open a cold bottle of Alzina (our favorite) brewed at the base of Mount Canigou in the village of Bouleternere. Jean Fabien Casteuble’s five artisanal brews are made with pure malt, without preservatives, coloring or GMO’s. Expect to see a few in our support vehicle’s cooler!
- Active Travel France, Biking, Cycling, Food and Wine, France, French Catalonia, Languedoc-Roussillon, Mediterranean, Organic, Organic Bike Trip France, Organic Food and Wine France, Pyrenees, South of France
- August 13, 2014