Roussillon is the Southern-most quarter of the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region of France, closest to the Spanish border. It is, pretty well, the Eastern (Mediterranean) half of the Department of Pyrénées-Orientales.

It makes only about 9% of the total of the whole Languedoc-Roussillon region, equivalent to about 2% of France’s total wine production. However, just under a quarter of Roussillon’s production is Vin Doux Naturel, but that’s 80% of France’s total. More about Vin Doux Naturel [VDN] later.

There are several “dry” Appellations – indicated in this map:
In addition there are several Vin Doux appellations: Maury (the same area as indicated here); Banyuls (the same area as Collioure) and Rivesaltes (pretty much anywhere). AOC/AOP wines make up over half the Roussillon total. Of this 45% is VDN; 33% Red; 17% Rose and only 3% White (about half the AOP white is from Collioure). Roughly ¾ of the AOP wine is made by Co-Ops.

Finally, on top of that, or maybe underneath that, there are IGPs accounting for 40% of the total output. Roussillon wines can be labelled IGP Oc (formerly Vin de Pays d’Oc) the generic regional IGP, but more importantly IGP Côtes Catalanes – which accounts for two-thirds of IGP wine in Roussillon.

Although VDN makes up about 22% of all Roussillon wine, it takes up about 32% of the vineyards, due to lower yields in Vin Doux.

The most important grapes by vineyard area are: Grenache Noir (23%  -about 1/3 goes into VDN); Muscat (18% – of 2 sorts – Alexandrie and Petit Grains – nearly all going into VDN); Syrah (16%); Carignan (14% – some in VDN); Grenache (Gris & Blanc) (8% – 1/3 VDN); Macabeu (8% – 1/3 VDN) and Mourvedre (3%). Apart from VDN the grapes planted are about 80% red.

One would think that – being the most Southerly wine area of French Grenache based wines – Roussillon reds would have a heavier style than say most Languedoc or Rhone versions. While this can be true I have found it to be the exception rather than the rule. Maybe the reasons for that are the lower volumes and prices compared to those other areas. That leads UK Merchants to import only better examples – typically showing more suppleness and balance.

It’s a similar story over on the white side. One would expect flabby and perhaps oxidised wines. To some extent this is true, particularly in Grenache Blanc wines where it is – in some cases – deliberate. However, particularly in Collioure, there is an imperative to produce crisper wines to accompany the fish-based cuisine. This leads to more use of Grenache Gris – which is a richer, more perfumed and racier version than Blanc.

The real hallmark of Roussillon, though, is Vin Doux Naturel. This is made, a bit like Port, by adding neutral grape spirit to stop the yeast before fermentation is complete and therefore before all the sugar has been converted into alcohol. The wines retain some naturally occurring sugar, (usually more than 100g/l) perceived as sweetness on the palate. The final alcohol level has a minimum required content of 15% abv. About ¾ of Roussillon Vin Doux is white – being either Muscat de Rivesaltes, or Rivesaltes Ambré. On the other hand Rivesaltes Grenat or Tuilé, Maury and most Banyuls are red.

Again, the best examples express richness and depth without being too cloying or heavy.

We are blessed with something of a specialist merchant of wines of this, and similar, areas – Leon Stolarski. We are having 4 of his wines tonight (to add to 3 in each of the recent Gard and Mourvèdre tastings). It may be that my impression of unexpected freshness from the region is due to him, or it may be that lower prices in Roussillon, in particular, mean we are drinking relatively better wines…. We shall see…

Notes on the tasting will be posted in 3 or 4 days… Until then…