4 Flavorful Wines To Try From France's Roussillon Region

Surrounded by mountains and numerous topographical features resulting from a turbulent geological past, France's Roussillon wine region is cradled in a massive amphitheater-like bowl nestled in the south of France between Spain and narrow valleys that head outward from the Pyrenees and Corbières mountains to the Mediterranean Sea.

Distinct microclimates, many of which have earned their own AOP certification, receive more than 320 days of sunshine per year balanced by heavy autumn rains. Combine this with soils defined by clay, limestone, schist, and gravel and you get the perfect array of terroirs seemingly custom-made for the more than 23 different Roussillon grape varieties to reach their optimal potential. 

The best part is when winemakers get their hands on the juice crafting a bevy of elegant wines. Capitalizing on this unique patchwork of micro-terroirs, Roussillon's small community of 2,200 winemaker families, 25 cooperative cellars, and 345 private wineries produce everything from dry still wines and vins doux naturels (fortified sweet wines) to the classic dry reds and rosés representing 87 percent of the region's exports.

Many wine-lovers appreciate the high-quality wine coming from this region: Roussillon's top-quality bold reds have experienced a whopping 177-percent increase in export volume to the United States since 2010. 

Domaine La Tour Vieille Collioure Rouge La Pinede 2014

The vineyards that produce the grapes for this 75 percent black grenache, 25 percent carignan blend are situated on slopes in Pyrenees foothills just as they plunge toward the Mediterranean Sea. Manual harvesting and the treading of grapes that Domaine La Tour Vieille sources noticeably impacts this velvety supple vintage. Entirely aged in concrete vats and bottled following harvesting in June, you get a rich cinnamon and plum on the mouthfeel while black currant and cloves burst forth on the palate. Powerful tannins and minerality partner up just right, delivering a sharp, spicy kick to the back of the throat and spreading out across the mouth, defining an intense character. It pairs wonderfully with fish dishes but also promises to age well and evolve in boldness and structure.

Château Saint-Roch "Kerbuccio" Maury Sec 2014

It's a common misconception to automatically associate fortified sweet wines with the Maury appellation. The truth is that dry reds full of character like this cuvée Kerbuccio are just as common. Black schist and marl soils set up an ideal growing substrate for this 60 percent grenache noir, 20 percent syrah, and 20 percent mourvèdre blend made with manually harvested grapes. Thirty percent of the wine is aged in 500-liter barrels for six to nine months while the rest is aged in full concrete vats. Smoky on the nose, a deep dark rich berry strongly reveals dark chocolate and tobacco on the palate. Bracing tannins give it well-defined structure that deeply penetrates to the core of the mouthfeel while an electrifying astringency showcases the more finely tuned aspects of this bolder wine.

M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila-Haut Côtes du Roussillon Villages L'Esquerda 2013

In Catalan, l'esquerda means "fault in the rock," as is the case with this Côtes du Roussillon Villages, which takes you to the core of Roussillon's granitic soils by simply taking a sip. Vineyards in plateaus and hills 350 meters above sea level, fueled by granite sand limestone soils, yield a unique tasting experience with this syrah, grenache, carignan blend where 10 percent is aged in oak while the other 90 percent is aged in concrete tanks. Astringency out front displays chocolate and complex berry while its multi-layered complexity makes it pair well with a wide variety of cooking styles and ingredients like salt, char, roasted vegetables, and cheeses. Consistent across the palate, pairing with foods empowers and accentuates many ingredients, like a magical gravy, creating a delightfully well-rounded flavor experience.

Hecht & Bannier Côtes du Roussillon Villages 2011

Hecht & Bannier owners Gregory and Francois personally visit appellations each year to test out wines for their blends, ultimately selecting grapes from both cooperatives and individual, highly esteemed domaines. Not being tied by contract to any producer gives them the freedom to source from terroirs that best suit their winemaking objectives, including certified organic when possible.

This mightily diverse Côtes du Roussillon blend of grenache, syrah, carignan, mourvèdre, and lledoner pelut is shaped by a three-way aging process of 30 percent in concrete vats, 40 percent in demi-muid (500-liter barrels), and 30 percent in oak barrels. With an intense ruby hue, this wine exhibits a dense mouthfeel with tannins balancing a black berry fruity spiciness. A dark presence permeates the overall flavor experience with spicy grape, chocolate, and tobacco notes that linger all the way to the finish.


Photos courtesy of Wines of Roussillon & Steve Mirsky. Coverage made possible by participating in a sponsored tasting.