Exploring Roussillon wines

Roussillon is a small region situated along the Mediterranean coast of France. Roussillon is part of the Occitanie region, the second-largest region in France, but only produces 10 percent of the total wine of the area. But what they produce is worth seeking out. I had the pleasure to enjoy three wines from Roussillon as I recently wrote about in the Napa Valley Register and share here.

Exploring Roussillon wines

Situated along the Mediterranean coast of France with the Rhone Valley in the east and the Spanish border on the southwest, the Occitanie region is the second-largest region in France. Formed in 2016, the Occitanie includes what used to be called Languedoc-Roussillon. While the Languedoc-Roussillon area is considered the largest wine-producing region in all of France, 90 percent of the wine is produced in Languedoc. Roussillon only produces 10 percent of the total wine of the area and only two percent of France’s wine.

Yet Roussillon is one of France’s most dynamic wine regions and worth discovering. Located near Spain’s Catalonia region, Roussillon is shaped like an amphitheater that opens to the Mediterranean Sea. The sunny region is cooled by the mistral winds and is home to a patchwork of micro-terroirs. It is also home to 2,334 winemaker families, 28 cooperatives, and 417 private cellars.

In Roussillon, 24 different grape varieties are grown, including Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris and Grenache Noir, offering a diverse range of styles. Roussillon makes 80 percent of the country’s AOP-certified vins doux naturels (traditional fortified sweet wines) but also produces still wines.

The producers of Roussillon are pioneers of organic and biodynamic farming. With an emphasis on biodiversity, the number of organic growers in the region has more than doubled in the last 10 years alone. I had the pleasure to enjoy three wines from Roussillon that represented the focus on organic farming as well as the quality and beauty of the wines from there.

Exploring Roussillon wines

Domaine Du Clos Des Fées 2020 Les Sorcières Blanc, AOC Côtes du Roussillon ($18) (40 percent Grenache Blanc, 30 percent Vermentino, 20 percent Roussanne, 10 percent Maccabeo)

Former sommelier and journalist Hervé Bizeul started with a few plots of old vines in 1997. Today he has more than 30 hectares (74 acres) under vine, farmed organically. The Grenache Blanc is from vines planted in 1945, and the Vermentino and Roussanne were planted in 2011 on clay and limestone soils. Vermentino and Roussanne are picked first and Grenache blanc is picked later. The wine is aged on the lees.

There is something ethereal about the nose of the wine. Floral, stone fruit, and citrus aromas give the wine a very pretty and elegant nose. On the palate, the wine is light with vibrant acidity and a delicate texture that lingers making me want to take another sip and another.

Exploring Roussillon wines

Olivier Pithon 2018 Laïs Rouge, AOC Côtes du Roussillon ($25) (40 percent Carignan, 40 percent Grenache, 20 percent Mourvedre)

Growing up among the vines, Oliver Pithon’s love of the land and wine began when he was young. In 2001, he purchased 8.5 hectares of land and in 2010 he started applying biodynamic practices that enable him to understand his vines, soil, and terroirs. For the Le Laïs Rouge, the grapes are hand-picked and matured in concrete vats.

Putting my nose in the glass and sipping on the wine, I can almost imagine standing in the heart of Roussillon, feeling the winds blow and smelling the garrigue. Raspberry and blackberry fruit aromas mix with herbal, earthy, mineral notes. On the palate, there are notes of herbs, leather, and graphite. The wine has softly gripping tannins and a fresh, juicy, and lifted finish. Another wine I just keep sipping.

Exploring Roussillon wines

Bila-Haut by Michel Chapoutier 2018 Occultum Lapidem, AOC Côtes du Roussillon-Villages Latour de France ($24) (Syrah, Grenache, Carignan)

Michel Chapoutier, one of the most recognizable producers in the Rhône Valley, is known for producing wines that let the terroir speak. He purchased the Bila-Haut estate in Roussillon in 1999 where 40-plus-year-old vines are sustainably farmed. The Occultum Lapidem is a single vineyard wine sourced from the oldest vines on the estate. The grapes are hand-harvested and destemmed. There is no pressing; rather the cap is punched down during a four-week maceration. The wine is matured in concrete tanks.

The nose of the wine is meaty with aromas of blackberries, leather, graphite, and pepper. Yet despite the dark, rich nose of the wine, there is a lift on the palate. Lightly drying tannins are met with a fresh acidity that washes across the palate.

The freshness and elegance, matched with the affordability, make the wines of Roussillon stand out. As this dynamic region continues to evolve, I am looking forward to enjoying more of these wines.

Read the original story in the Napa Valley Register.