Roussillon 101: The Dry Wines

Wine textbooks often group the Languedoc and Roussillon regions together, the two comprising the vast final stretch of France along the Mediterranean before reaching Catalonia across the Spanish border. When considered as one, the Languedoc-Roussillon is the world’s largest wine region in terms of land dedicated to vineyards. Within that viticultural expanse arise a diverse tapestry of wines – including some of France’s best values. Today we look at Roussillon, France’s southwestern edge that exhibits an identity independent of the Languedoc, both in terms of culture and its more mountainous terroirs . Just as Alsace interweaves French and German traditions after toggling between the two countries over the course of centuries, in France’s opposite corner, Roussillon, finds a similar mix between French and Catalonian influences. Sometimes referred to as “Catalunya Nord,” Roussillon can be conceived as the northern extension of the idiosyncratic Spanish region. After centuries of governance under the Crown of Aragon, Roussillon was ceded to France as part of the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees, marking an end to the several-decade long Franco-Spanish war. A number of Roussillon’s residents continue to speak Catalan, and some experts even consider their wines more Catalonian in character than French. Roussillon’s history of winegrowing can be traced back to the 7th century BC, upon the Greek settlement of Marseille. Traditionally, Roussillon’s most famous exports were its remarkable “vins doux naturels,” a category of sweet fortified wines made in a dizzying array of styles, namely from the appellations of Rivesaltes , Maury , and Banyuls . Many of those wines still count among France’s most fascinating, but as dessert wines slowly fell from fashion over the course of the twentieth century, Roussillon was presented with the opportunity to extend its regional identity. Today, Roussillon rewards drinkers with a portfolio of dry wines, yielded from some of France’s oldest vines and often priced as some of the country’s best values. Côtes du Roussillon and Côtes du Roussillon Villages The Côtes du Roussillon marks the entry-tier into Roussillon’s dry AOC (Appellation d’Origine Côntrolée or Appellation of Controlled Origin) wines. Made red, white, and rosé, these wines emerge from all over the region, vinified from a cornucopia of grapes that thrive off the Mediterranean’s shores. Grenache Noir, Gris, and Blanc all carry particular importance in these, wines as to Syrah , Mourvèdre , and Carignan . The wines are often cultivated from old head-trained vines, and perhaps their greatest analogues are the Côtes du Rhône bottlings made further east. The Côtes du Roussillon wines, however, seem to capture a warmer Mediterranean breadth and an earthy rusticity that recalls the Catalonian traditions found due south. A tier above, the Côtes du Roussillon Villages wines hail from the hilly northern sector of Roussillon, on the edge of Languedoc. More structured, and often from lower yielding vines, Côtes du Roussillon Villages wines are always red. Four towns are permitted to append their names to the Côtes du Roussillon Villages label: Latour de France, Caramany, Lesquerde and Tautavel. Caramany and Lesquerde grow their wines on primarily granite and gneiss soils, while Latour de France and Tautavel find more limestone influences. Lastly, the Côtes du Roussillon Les Aspres appellation blankets the southern end of Roussillon, from vineyards that gradually rise in altitude as the region ascends to the Pyrenees. Collioure and Maury Sec Outside of the collection of Côtes du Roussillon appellations, Roussillon is home to two additional AOCs for dry wines: Collioure and Maury Sec. Collioure occupies the southwestern bookend to the French Mediterranean, nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees, just opposite Catalonia’s Empordà across the Spanish border. Both the sea and the mountains help moderate the hot summer temperatures - the cold “tramontane” winds sweeping across the steeply terraced vineyards that descend to the water. In essence, Collioure is the dry counterpart to the famous fortified wines of Banyuls, the two appellations constrained to the same boundaries. Collioure can be made white or rosé, but most commonly are found red. These wines are always blends, the reds made primarily from Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre, with additions of Carignan and Cinsault in smaller percentages. Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris dominate Collioure whites, with an array of additional accessory grapes rounding out the mix. In Roussillon’s opposite corner, the appellation of Maury grows its grapes further inland in the Agly Valley, just south of Languedoc’s Fitou. The millennium-old ruins of the Château de Quéribus, once used to defend France’s southern border, overlook Maury’s steep schist vineyards. As with Collioure and Banyuls, Maury Sec indicates a dry wine made within the same area as Maury’s vins doux naturels. Unlike Collioure, Maury Sec is exclusively a red wine, but must also be a blend. Grenache serves as the primary component, often with contributions from Carignan, Mourvèdre and Syrah. The IGP Wines Beyond Roussillon’s AOCs, a trio of IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée or Protected Geographic Indications) categories exists in Roussillon. While traditionally the IGP tier represents a step lower in quality than AOC wines, nowhere else is France’s classification pyramid so unsteady as it is in Roussillon and the neighboring Languedoc. Wines that fall into the IGP designations don’t, for whatever reason, adhere to the regulations set forth in a given AOC. Perhaps a vintner is eager to try a different grape variety or sway from traditional winemaking practices. Those experiments often result in IGP wines – a category whose looser regulations can give way to innovation. The catchall IGP in the Languedoc-Roussillon is the IGP Pays d'Oc , France’s largest producer of IGP wine by volume. Unlike AOC wines, IGP Pays d'Oc are often labeled by grape variety. The wines of IGP Côte Vermeille and IGP Côtes Catalanes represent a step above in quality. The IGP Côte Vermeille corresponds roughly to the same boundaries as Collioure and Banyuls, while the IGP Côtes Catalanes fills the rest of Roussillon. These wines can be made with anything from Cabernet Sauvignon to Chardonnay to Viognier , as well as the grapes more commonly associated with the region. Like the AOC wines, IGP bottlings may derive from remarkably old vines, and often offer a tremendous value in a region that already delivers on its cost-to-quality ratio. — Bryce Wiatrak Have you ever enjoyed a Roussillon wine? We can’t wait to see what you’ve been drinking. Scan the label and add your rating on Delectable!

Domaine La Tour Vieille

Puig Ambeille Collioure 2015

From the same appellation boundaries as Banyuls, this Collioure wine is a stunner. While a bit reductive when first uncorked - it’s stoic, structured and remarkably complex - a pillar of inky anise, leather, cayenne, rosemary flavor. Spice and garrigue meet blackberry liqueur on the lengthy finish. It’s the classic combination of rusticity and elegance that southern France does so well. 80% Mourvèdre, 10% Grenache, 10% Carignan. — 10 months ago

Emily Nixon
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David, Daniel P. and 14 others liked this

Gérard Bertrand

Grand Terroir Tautavel Grenache Blend 2015

One of Languedoc-Roussillon’s most visible names, Gérard Bertrand, crafts a juicy Côtes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel. Round and plush, it’s flavors sing of roasted plum, black sesame, chaparral, and a distinctive sweet umami soy sauce character on the finish. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan - this is the quintessential Tuesday night BBQ wine. — 9 months ago

Isaac, Mike and 6 others liked this

Mas Amiel

Vertigo Côtes du Roussillon Grenache Blanc Blend 2015

A blend of Grenache Blanc, Maccabeu, Roussanne, and Marsanne, Mas Amiel crafts a taut white Côtes du Roussillon of precision and and character. Saline and mineral - it captures the salty ocean breeze, alongside tart flavors of lime pith and starfruit. Clean, refreshing, and joyful. — 9 months ago

Mike, Mark and 7 others liked this

Mas Karolina

Blanc Sec Côtes Catalanes 2015

A charming, easy Mediterranean white. Flavors of honeydew rind, dough, pollen, bean paste, ripe citrus, fennel - rustic and tactile. The 50% Grenache Gris gives the wine much body and a chewy texture. Warming but also salty on the finish. 50% Grenache Gris, 20% Grenache Blanc, 20% Macabeu, 10% Carignan Blanc. — 10 months ago

Emily Nixon
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David, James and 6 others liked this

Domaine des Enfants

Tabula Rasa IGP Côtes Catalanes Grenache Blanc Blend 2015

This Côtes Catalanes embodies the dilemma of IGP wines in this part of France, as it achieves every bit of complexity as the best Roussillon wines. Structured and resinous, it coats the palate with drippy flavors of cereal grains, roasted apricots, yellow apple skin, and a tactile, Chenin-like dried honeycomb character. Utterly captivating and hard to put down. 30% Grenache Blanc, 30% Grenache Gris, 30% Macabeu, 10% Carignan Blanc. — 9 months ago

Mike, Mark and 10 others liked this

M. Chapoutier

Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France Syrah Blend 2014

From stalwart Rhône producer Chapoutier's Roussillon label, the Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem offers a polished, more tethered expression of Côtes du Roussillon Village. Wilted herbs, thyme, lavender, peppercorn, and raspberry liqueur flesh out on the palate, before finding a saltier, more gripping finds finish of decent length. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan. — 10 months ago

Emily Nixon
with Emily
David, Daniel P. and 8 others liked this

Penya

Rouge Côtes Catalanes Grenache Blend 2015

For $12 this is quite a wine. It lacks structure on the palate, but the flavors are purely Mediterranean - chaparral, anise, leather, tobacco, smoke, dust, rosemary and cassis. Resinous, savory, and a steal. 52% Grenache, 36% Carignan, 12% Syrah. — 10 months ago

Emily Nixon
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Dawn, David and 6 others liked this

Mas Amiel

Légende Maury Sec Grenache Blend 2013

At its best, I’ve always found Grenache has the ability to achieve an elegance and purity matched by few other Mediterranean grapes. This Maury Sec accomplishes just that - a wine with a cooling berry flavor of length and transparency. Heady, with subtle blue notes and a piney, fresh garden herbaceousness - it captivates with its tranquil breadth and high-toned finish. 80% Grenache, 20% Carignan. — 9 months ago

Mike, Mark and 9 others liked this

Hecht & Bannier (Gregory & Francois)

Côtes du Roussillon Villages Grenache Blend 2011

From one of the Languedoc-Roussillon's most exciting young négociants, Hecht & Bannier's Côtes du Roussillon Villages demonstrates excellent varietal character - a classic, rustic expression of Grenache from this corner of the Med. Flavors of almond dust, warm plums, licorice, raspberry and blanched sweet herbs expand to a rather girthy mid-palate, nuanced by a subtle minerality and animale character that informs the finish. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Mourvèdre, and Lledoner Pelut. — 10 months ago

Emily Nixon
with Emily
Dawn, Daniel P. and 10 others liked this
Dawn Emory

Dawn Emory

Sounds wonderfully compex!!

Domaine Lafage

Miraflors Rosé Blend 2017

A wonderfully charming Côtes Catalanes rosé. Bone dry with a pale salmon hue, it tastes of grapefruit pith, gooseberry, kiwi, and white peach. An easy drinker, a total steal, and the perfect poolside sipper for the warm weather to come. Sourced from 80 year-old Grenache Gris vines, blended with Mourvèdre. — 9 months ago

Bryce, Dawn and 16 others liked this