The Roussillon region has something for everyone. Area diversity is vast- the Mediterranean Sea, charming countryside towns, mountains, and certainly, great food and wine. It’s a mecca for outdoor lovers with places to cycle, stroll or just relax. But today what most excites me are the white wines of Roussillon.
On July 18 at 11am ET and 17:00 in France, the French #Winophiles group of wine writers and bloggers meet for a Twitter chat. Our chat focus- the white wines of Roussillon, an area I visited last year with friends. I was so wowed by the white wines- streaks of minerality, salinity and freshness to fruity, floral, savory and rich- I chose them for our July topic. And today I’m extending an offer for you to join us!
First Things First – The Name
If you’re wondering where the region is, you’re likely not alone.
Often referred to as Languedoc-Roussillon, or just AOC Languedoc, the two are topographically, geologically and culturally different. While they both lie in the larger Occitanie ‘department’ in the southwest of France- Sud-Ouest in French- Roussillon is the section closer to the Spanish border, with most of the vineyard area falling into the Pyrenees-Orientales – the southernmost department of France. Yes, it can be a bit confusing so here’s a map to help!
In conversations with Roussillon winery owners and people working in the wine business, I’m told they generally prefer to stay separate.
Understandably so, they both present characteristics unique to their region. Here are a few unique things about Roussillon.
Topographical: Mountain ranges surround Roussillon on three sides — the Corbières range to the north, the eastern part of the Pyrénées and Mont Canigou to the west, and the Albères range to the south. They form an amphitheater shape opening to the Mediterranean Sea in the east. Overall Roussillon is higher and perhaps more rugged than Languedoc.
Geological: Soils range from limestone-rich red soils further inland to the stony, sandy, clay, and silt soils near the coast. Most of the terrain consists of clay, calcareous limestone, and types of schist, granite, and gravel. In fact wines reflect distinct personalities due to such varied topographic and geological sites. Scroll over the photos below to see what they are, feel free to take a guess first!
And rivers- the Agly, the Têt, and the Tech rivers help moderate Roussillon’s Mediterranean climate where brilliantly sunny days are many.
Cultural: Roussillon was under Spanish rule for years. Many still consider themselves French Catalan and speak a dialect of Catalan.
And finally, Roussillon ranks in the top tier for organic viticulture and biodynamic practices. In fact, AOC Languedoc-Roussillon contains a quarter of the total organic farming land in France!
According to wine experts and authors Britt and Per Karlsson, “The white wines from Roussillon are rather unknown but can be outstanding and are always worth looking for. They are often wines with a great texture and mouth feel, quite full-bodied and with a surprisingly fresh acidity considering the warm climate. Genuinely characterful. And the added benefit of often being excellent value for money.”
Before continuing, it is important to note the two regions were combined into one in the late 1980s but continue to have their own organizations for appellation duties: CIVR or Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Roussillon and CIVL for Languedoc- Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins AOC du Languedoc.
Roussillon White Wine Appellations
Historically Roussillon is famous for sweet wines, which continue to be stunning and they’re definitely worth trying. Contrarily, there’s a shift towards fresh and dry wine styles.
- Three of the nine AOCs (Appellation of Controlled Origin) include dry white wines: Collioure, Côtes du Roussillon and Languedoc-Roussillon.
Collioure AOC – Bottom right in red color
Côtes du Roussillon AOC – sage green color throughout map
Languedoc-Roussillon AOC covers the entire region, all colors
- All three of the IGPs (Indication Géographique Protégée) include white wines: Côtes Catalanes, Côte Vermeille and IGP d’OC.
IGP Côtes Catalanes – orange area
IGP Côte Vermeille – bottom right red, covers same small area as Collioure
IGP d’Oc (Languedoc-Roussillon IGP) – covers the entire region
And the sweet wines I was talking about above, four of the five fortified sweet wine or Vins Doux Naturels (VDN) AOC include white wines: Rivesaltes, Muscat de Rivesaltes, Maury and Banyuls.
Rivesaltes AOC and Muscat de Rivesaltes AOC – sage green color
Maury AOC – small orange area, upper left
Banyuls AOC – yellow color bottom right
Additionally, and similar to other regions in France, some winemakers choose to bottle wine under either an IGP or Vin de France for increased flexibility. The wave of ‘neo-wine’ and young next generation winemakers is very much alive in Roussillon!
Anyone who likes trying less common grapes and interesting cuvees will be happy reaching for a Roussillon white. While the international grapes Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are grown here, the keystone varieties are Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris, which form the backbone of many wines. Other varieties used more frequently include Macabeu (Macabeo in Spain and Viura in Rioja), Muscat à Petits Grains Blanc, Muscat d’Alexandrie, Marsanne, Roussanne, Vermentino (aka Rolle in areas of France), Viognier and Carignan Blanc.
Beyond these, a total of 56 grape varieties are approved for use in the IGP white wines, many new to me.
Roussillon white wines are worth seeking out for their flavor, depth of character and overall bright and appealing personalities. From citrus, melon and floral to herbaceous, salinity and mineral freshness, there truly is a style for everyone. You can feel the sea breeze in the wines!
Another less known Roussillon wine style is Rancio. It’s defined as dry- all of its sugars are fermented into alcohol. “Rancio” refers to the wine’s aging in barrels partially filled, an environment encouraging oxidation. It’s usually made with Grenache (Grenache Blanc for the whites) or Macabeu grapes, the same used for making Banyuls, Maury, and Rivesaltes sweet wines. Rancio Sec (dry) reminds me of dry sherry and is an acquired taste. Think salty nuts, olives, anchovies for an apéro pairing with Rancio, or instead of Armagnac or Cognac after dinner. Rancio Doux (sweet) can be absolutely stunning sipping by itself or with dessert.
How To Join
If you are a food and/or wine writer or blogger, this is your invitation to join us.
Contact me with: your blog url, Twitter handle, and any other social media details. If you know your blog post title, include that. But you can send it closer to the event too. We’d just like to get a sense of who’s participating and give some shout-outs and links as we go. My email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Send your post title to me by Monday, July 13th to be included in the preview post. I prepare a preview post shortly after receiving titles, linking to your blogs. Your title should include our hashtag “#Winophiles”.
Publish your post between Friday, July 17th and the morning of Saturday, July 18th. You can always schedule your post in advance if you will be tied up that morning.
In your post include links to the other #Winophiles participants and a description of what the event is about. I’ll provide the HTML code that you can easily put in your post — which will link to people’s general blog url. The updated code for the permanent links to everyone’s #Winophiles posts will be available no later than Sunday July 19th.
Get social! After the posts go live, please visit your fellow bloggers posts’ to comment and share. We have a Facebook group for participating bloggers to connect and share, too. If you need an invitation please let me know.
Sponsored posts are OK if clearly disclosed. Please be sure to disclose if your post is sponsored or if you are describing wine or other products for which you received as a free sample.
Until then, stay safe, santé!