Roussillon is the southernmost wine-growing region in France. Framed by three mountain massifs - the Corbières in the north, the Albères in the south and the Canigou in the west - it is located on the extreme eastern edge of the Pyrenees, directly bordering Spain. The Greeks already cultivated wine here when they settled in the area around today's Perpignan in the 7th century in search of mineral resources.
|View of Calstelnou|
The area is extremely hot. Even the winters are usually mild, but in summer the wild landscape, cut through by the Agly, Tèt and Tech rivers, with its often terraced vineyards, resembles an oven that even the rare thundershowers can hardly cool down. The climate demands robust grape varieties and although Merlot, Chardonnay or Sauvignon have also been planted in some country wine communities, most quality producers limit themselves to the indigenous varieties, especially Carignan, Grenache Noir, Lladoner Pelut (a Grenache mutation), Cinsaut and some Syrah, Mourvèdre and Macabeu for the red and rosé wines, and Grenache Blanc and Gris, Macabeu, Malvoisie du Roussillon, Marsanne, Roussanne, Rolle, Muscat à petits grains and Muscat d'Alexandrie for the whites.
The Cotes de Roussillon cover around 6800 hectares in 118 communes around Perpignan. 32 of these communes - all located in the north of the zone - are entitled to the designation Cotes du Roussillon-Villages. 4 crus with different soil formations may additionally append the place name: Tautavel (limestone and clay), Latour-de-France (brown slate), Lesquerde (granite) and Caramany (gneiss). While the dry white wines seem to focus predominantly on elegance and many are actually surprisingly lean, the red wines appear in different styles. Especially where carbonic maceration is used, fruity and very drinkable wines are produced. The majority of the mash-fermented reds also follow a rather medium-weight style; the wines are more appealing with fine spice and ripe fruit than with sheer power. However, especially among the Villages wines, there have been more and more heavyweights of deep dark colour, powerful body and enormous aromatic richness, often characterised by minerality.
|One of four crus: Latour-de-France|
In the very south of the region, wedged between the Mediterranean and the Spanish border, is Collioure, a tiny appellation exclusively for red and rosé wines. Here, Grenache, Carignan and Mourvèdre dominate on pure slate soils, but Syrah and Cinsaut are also used. The wines are consistently powerful, warm and spicy. From the hands of some top producers come impressive, immensely complex examples.
Vins Doux Naturels, naturally sweet red and white wines whose fermentation is stopped by adding brandy, have a long tradition in Roussillon. In terms of production volume, the largest appellation for Vins Doux Naturels permitted in Roussillon is Rivesaltes, which covers almost the entire region with almost 10,000 hectares. The appellation applies to white and red grapes, with the various varieties of Grenache basically dominating. The range extends from the young, oxidatively matured Rivesaltes Rouge to the Ambré or Tuilé (the latter must consist of at least 50% Grenache noir), which has been aged for at least 5 years, to the young Grenat, which most closely resembles a vintage port and must consist of at least 75% Grenache noir.
The two crus for Vins Doux Naturels are at opposite ends of the growing region. Within the Cotes du Roussillon-Villages is Maury, which borders Corbières to the north (and reaches a stretch into it). Here, too, slate soils in various stages of weathering dominate. The red wines produced from Grenache usually come onto the market young and resemble - not entirely unintentionally - vintage port wines. The ageing ability of the best wines is enormous.
The great liqueur wines of the AOC Banyuls, whose area coincides exactly with that of Collioure, have a somewhat different tradition. Here, the wines were usually matured oxidatively and marketed under the names Traditionel, Blanc, Doré and Ambré. For some time now, however, there has also been a more modern variant from Banyuls, the Rimage, which is modelled on vintage port wines and is actually only produced in very good years. No matter which style one prefers, from the hands of quality-conscious producers, wines of overwhelming power, depth and complexity emerge in Banyuls. Their suitability as accompaniments to chocolate desserts is legendary, but one should also try these unique wines with pannacotta, aged cheeses as well as game and poultry in sweet fruit sauces or sauerbraten.
|Intense% beguiling - Muscat de Rivesaltes|
In all apellations for red Vin Doux Naturel, a white version called Muscat de Rivesaltes may also be produced. Made from Muscat à petits grains (known as Gelber Muskateller in German-speaking countries and often called Muscat de Rivesaltes in Roussillon) and the later-ripening, very heat-resistant Muskat d'Alexandrie, the wine ideally combines intense, fresh fruit aromas with beguiling floral nuances and cool mineral play. The wines oxidise early and should therefore be drunk predominantly young. They are ideal companions to fruit desserts, cakes with fruit, ice cream and vanilla pastries, but at their best they also go well with Roquefort and similar blue cheeses.
Roussillon in figures:
Gesmatreb area: approx. 35000 hectares
Harvest volume : approx. 1.3 million hectolitres
Average yield : approx. 37hl/ha
Average sunshine duration: 2600 hours/year
Average rainfall: 500-600mm/year