Roussillon is probably not the first region that comes to the tip of your tongue when you think of French wine, but it is a favorite for many enthusiasts, and deservedly so. The wines are not only delicious, they are incredibly interesting, and an awesome value, making them the perfect choice for some fun exploration.
The Roussillon wine region lies in southern France, bordering Spain. Part of the larger Languedoc-Roussillon region, the areas were separate for most of history. Once under Spanish rule, Roussillon was also part of Catalonia.
Shaped like a crescent, Roussillon is an amphitheater to the Mediterranean Sea, with the remainder of the region bordered by mountain ranges: the Corbièrest to the north, the Pyrenees, to the west, and the Albères to the south. This results in a myriad of soil types – I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many soils in one area before.
The climate is hot and sunny with mild seasonal changes. Averaging 316 days of sunshine a year, there is no doubt you are in Southern France. Annual rainfall is between 20-24 inches which falls during just a few months of the year. The vines also benefit from seasonal Tramontane winds. Thanks in large part to Mother Nature, Roussillon has the highest percentage of organic vineyards in France.
Wine making in this region dates back thousands of years. It is where the world renown sweet fortified wine – Vins Doux Natural was discovered. Modern day wine making includes more than 2,300 family owned vineyards, more than 400 producers, and nearly 30 cooperatives. Many are owned and operated by the younger generation – continuing to combine innovation (something the region has always been known for) with centuries old knowledge, resulting in wines that reflect the region and the terroir perfectly.
Perhaps best known for the aforementioned Vins Doux Naturel wines, Roussillon’s red, white and rose wines make up nearly 80% of the region’s production. I am exploring this region with the #winophiles this month and we are focusing on the white wines. So what is in that glass of white wine from Roussillon?
Almost always a blend, there are 11 white and gray varietals permitted with Grenache Blanc, and Grenache Gris, being the most common. Roussanne, Vermentino, and Viognier are the most frequent additions. There are 5 Vin Doux Naturel AOCs, where Muscat varieties dominate. I have never experienced a Vin Doux Naturel, so I cannot speak to those, but I’m adding that to my ever growing list of wines to try.
Generally speaking the wines are medium to full bodied, and have incredible depth of flavor. You’ll find everything from fruit to herb to stone in the same glass. Nice levels of acidity make the wines great with food, or perfect for porch sipping. The two that I sampled for this article are fantastic options.
Domaine La Fage|Cuvee Centenaire 2018|Côtes du Roussillon|13% ABV|$17.99
A blend of 60% Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris, and 20% Roussane, it gets its name from the 100 year old vines that the Grenache grapes come from.
The grapes are hand harvested, with 30% of the wine aged in new French oak for 4 months prior to bottling.
Aromas of lemon, stone fruit, and minerality. On the palate, all of those notes carried through, with an herbal note added. The wine has a beautiful creamy note, that gives it a a fantastic mouthfeel. Medium bodied with great acidity.
These comments are from wine maker, Jean Marc LaFage, (see the full Q&A here), speaking about Roussillon in general, and his 100 year old vines.
“There can’t be many vineyards in the world where yields are as low as 20 hectolitres per hectare, which is all we achieve here in the Roussillon – that’s less than one bottle per vine. But our land is rugged and dry, and every grape has to be fought against tough natural obstacles – but the results are worth it, with enormous concentration and expressive depth of flavor.”
“Some of our vines are over 100. The volume of grapes they produce is lower than they used to, but those grapes are bursting with the flavours from decades of root development, and the wine they make is extraordinary.”
J M LaFage
One bottle per vine? How do they do this for $17.99 a bottle?
I have been craving cassoulet, but it’s hot here and I wanted something lighter, so I invented Cassoulet Bruschetta to compliment our charcueterie board. We also had grilled garlic sausage, marinated olives, and fig goat cheese. C’est magnifique! Any type of seafood would have been a win with this wine, but we have a shellfish allergy in my house, so I rarely go that route.
When it comes to recipe experiments, you just never know how its going to turn out, but this was a huge win! I think the tarragon was a great pairing with this wine. Super simple, I literally tossed some finely diced tomato, a can of small white beans, minced white onion, and black olives in a bowl with some olive oil, the wine, and tarragon. I added some chopped up garlic sausage on top. I couldn’t have been more tickled with the results.
Domaine de Bila-Haut| Occultum Lapidem 2016|Côtes du Roussillon|13.5% ABV|$45.99
This label is from famed wine maker Michael Chapoutier and I am a fan of the man, as much as I am his wines. He says: “I fall head over heels every day of my life.” He considers himself a farmer, a man of the land. He is an innovator – the first wine maker to put braille on wine labels. He is described as intensely curious, because he loves being alive, and says that if he stands still, he will fall.
Best known for his Rhône wines, he has vineyards all over France, having added Bila Haut winery and vineyards in Roussillon in 1999. Employing biodynamic practices, Michael Chapoutier loves the Roussillon region, describing it as “An intense, forceful, sometimes violent past. Contoured terraces with stony soil and rich geology.”
A blend of 70% Grenache Blanc, and 30% Vermentino, the array of aromas on this wine are crazy – lemon, anise, smoke, and minerality were all evident. These carried over on the palate, with stone fruit, and a crazy surprise on the finish for me. I swear there is a mild capsaicin note! A little crazy, and maybe it was just me, but I got a slow and mild hot pepper note.
The grapes are hand harvested and aged in stainless steel (70%), and 600L demi-muid barrels (30%) for 9 months.
This wine had depth and complexity, as it should for a $45 price point. I paired this wine with a simple salad of mixed greens with goat cheese, and a Sherry vinaigrette, grilled garlic sausage, and a decadent Corn Spoon Bread.
Whether you drink only white wines, or you prefer them in the warm summer months, or you just like to change it up all year long, the white wines of Roussillon should be somewhere in your rotation. But don’t take my word for it, check out what the rest of the #Winophiles discovered on their explorations of Roussillon.
Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla tells us about “A Summer Pairing: Salade Niçoise + Bila-Haut Côtes du Roussillon Blanc 2017“.
Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm pairs “American Bay Scallops with French Roussillon Blanc”.
Cindy at Grape Experiences shares “A Perfect Al Fresco Lunch in Roussillon: Domaine d’Ausères Chardonnay 2018 and Creamy Crab Quiche”.
Jeff from foodwineclick presents “Banyuls Pet-Nat with Treats à La Buvette”.
Allison and Chris from ADVineTURES discuss “Domaine Lafage Cuvée Centenaire: The Essence of Rousillon”.
Melanie at Wining With Mel tells us about her “Adventures in Roussillon white wines” #Winophiles.
Linda from My Full Wine Glass explains “A Dry Roussillon blanc turns my thoughts toward chicken”.
Gwendolyn from Wine Predator we have “M. Chapoutier’s Cotes du Roussillon Blanc Paired with Halibut Baked in Lemon Butter #Winophiles “.
Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicles talks about “Snow capped Pyrenees to the Mediterranean Sea – exploring the stunning and diverse Roussillon wine region”.
Lauren at The Swirling Dervish blog tells us about “Biodynamics and the Butterfly Effect: A Labor of Love in Roussillon”.
Susannah from Avvinare shares “Muscat de Rivesaltes – A Marvel from Roussillon”.
Payal at Keep the Peas whips up “Northern Thai Food and a Roussillon Muscat”.
Katrina from Corkscrew Concierge “An Exploration of Roussillon White Wines”.
Terri from Our Good Life tells us about “Summer Love and White Wines from Roussillon”.
Nicole at Somm’s Table has “Fun with Ramen & Saint-Roch Cotes du Roussillon Vieilles Vignes Blanc”.
On Savor the Harvest host Lynn shares “Distinctive Roussillon White Wines for your Buy List”.