To fully appreciate a wine is to be intimately familiar with its geographical origins and vinicultural heritage. Wines from France’s Roussillon region certainly exemplify this truism. Vineyards are surrounded by 3 mountain ranges yielding wide topographical variety and soils with the Corbières to the North, the Pyrenees with Mont Canigou to the West, and the Albères to the South while to the east ocean and mountains meet below on the Pyrénées-Orientales…widely referred to as an amphitheater to the Mediterranean’s cooling breezes. Three rivers, the Agly, Têt and Tech carve through valleys each providing a unique terroir graced each year with at least 2,500 hours of intense sunlight. Sweeping down from the mountains, Tramontana winds naturally deter vine diseases that befall even the best run vineyards elsewhere.
Greek seafarers from Corinth settling in the welcoming inlets of the Côte Vermeille were the first to take advantage of the Roussillon’s unique geographical features with vines taking root in 7th century B.C.. Up through the Middle Ages, home vineyards commonly produced raisined wines (over-maturation or honey added). Further adding special herbal and spice mixtures elevated it to the status of ‘nectar’, mythical drink of the gods, notably celebrated by Catalan troubadours. These early influences can still be tasted in today’s sweet wines like Rivesaltes Ambre.
Wine making became more refined in the 1300s thanks to Arnau de Vilanova, Majorca’s famous doctor and scholar, who pioneered a
whole new flavor territory by mixing grape liqueur with its eau-de-vie. It wasn’t until the 1700s that some more sophisticated wineries began producing what would eventually become top 20th century vintages. Some trying decades intervened starting in 1852 with phylloxera destroying countless vineyards. Restoration was not only financially risky but dangerous due to the ravages of war and social unrest. Forming cooperatives to survive, winemakers persevered ultimately winning a string of AOC (Appellation d’Origine) designations first in 1936 with Rivesaltes, Banyuls, and Maury all the way to the Côtes du Roussillon Villages in 1977. To this day, the more than 300 winemaking cooperatives represent 2,400 Roussillon’s vineyards, most of which are family owned no larger than 25 acres. Here are tasting notes from some of their resulting standouts:
2008 Chateau de Jau – Rich and buttery on the bouquet…strong minerality expands throughout the mouth. Fires up spicy Thai and Mexican dishes in interesting directions. Seems to neutralize salty snacks after just one sip. A sophisticated interplay of just the right tannins and fruits make the overall flavor profile tightly knit.
Francois Lurton Mas Janeil 2009 – Nothing berry about this one. Fresh ripe melon juice…light and distinct carrying through as an entirely different flavor dimension from sip to swallow. I can see this fine Cotes du Roussillon-Villages from Francois Lurton being an elegant picnic wine. A clear instance of a dark red wine being utterly refreshing…more like a Pinot Grigio…so light that your wine glass exudes the potency of fresh spring breezes…no weighty pondering here, just perfectly balanced drinking.
2008 Pierre Gaillard Collinoure Domaine Madeloc Cuvee Serral – A completely balanced red table wine. Peppery patina mouthfeel…nectar on the palate. A sophisticated balance of bold peppery Pinot Noir tempered by a lighter more playful side…grenache meets rose springiness. Mellowness with a peppery crescendo…no rough edges.
Cotes Du Roussillon Villages Hugo Domaine Thunevin Calvet 2008 – Slight spicy jam on the bouquet with a definitive Beaujolais-like burst on the mouth at the sip then matures into a deep dark fruity effervescence.
Singla Heritage du Temps 2003 Rivesaltes Ambre – Flows with walnut mead hints across the palate…long lingering makes it perfect for classic desserts like pecan or pumpkin pie. Rich and deep bodied with a sweet finish…slight syrupy mouth feel but never cloys readying your taste buds for the next bite or sip.
La Coume Du Roy Maury 1998 – 100% Grenache. Similar to a lively playful port yet unencumbered by darker berry, spicy, chocolate undertones. Not that these flavors are undesirable of course but this 100% Grenache dessert wine instead exudes a fiery flourish.
Photos in order of appearance courtesy of Tourisme Pyrenees-Orientales, Laurent Francini, & Steve Mirsky. Coverage resulting from a sponsored tasting.