Roussillon (pronounced “roo-see-yon”) is a wine growing region in the south of France that is often thought of as just part of the larger Languedoc-Roussillon, a region that stretches along the Mediterranean from the Rhone estuary to the Spanish border. But that perception is changing and today Roussillon is increasingly recognized as a region on its own, known for making a vast diversity of wine styles and for producing some great values.
Bounded by the Spanish border to the south and the Mediterranean Sea to the east, this region is shaped like an amphitheatre with the Pyrennes and Corbieres Mountains providing a slope moving down to the sea.
These mountains highlight the difference from the rest of the Languedoc which is mostly a plain next to the sea. Roussillon produces wines from 24 different permitted grape varieties and in both dry and sweet styles. Sometimes such a broad diversity can make it difficult to identify a regional signature. Not so with Roussillon. Wines from this region always show the classic full body and ripe texture that hot climate regions produce.
Roussillon takes its name from two sources. “Rouscinos” are the small prehistoric houses found in and around the region’s capital city of Perpignan. In many of Roussillon’s vineyards you will find iron-rich red soils in the form of clay, schist and limestone. In French “Rousse” is a shade of red and “sillion” means to furrow.
One of the key features of this region is its average number of sunny days: 316 days, one of the highest of any wine-growing region. However, unlike many sunny regions, Roussillon does get a reasonable amount of rain, usually around 26 inches each year. Three different rivers run from the mountains to the sea so getting enough water in the vineyards is not a problem. This region also gets a lot of wind which helps keeps the grapes dry and free from disease. This makes it relatively easy for growers to avoid the use of herbicides, pesticides and other foreign substances in the vineyard. As a result, both organic and biodynamic farming practices are used throughout the region. In fact Roussillon has more hectares of vineyards farmed organically or biodynamically than any other region in France.
The sweet wines of Roussillon make up about 20% of production.
The dry wines are increasingly important to the region as consumer preferences continue to trend towards less sugar in wine. The most popular red grapes are the classics varieties of the Southern Rhone: Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre. For the whites it is the other two types of Grenache, Genach Blanc and Grenache Gris, as well as Roussanne and the Spanish variety of Macebo (also known as Viura in Northern Spain’s Rioja region, where it is the principal white variety).
An important and well-regarded winery in Roussillon is Domaine Lafage. It is the creation of Jean-Marc Lafage and his wife Eliane. For 6 generations before Jean-Marc, his family farmed grapes in Roussillon. Jean-Marc was the first to make the transition from grape-growing to growing and winemaking. The Domaine is located in the town of Perpignan, the French capital of French Catalonia. They started the winery in 1996 and have grown it to annual production of 5 million bottles of a wide variety of different wines coming from their various vineyard plots totalling over 160 hectares.
Domaine Lafage is very much Roussillon in how it approaches winemaking and grape growing. True to the heart of the region, the Domaine uses organic farming practices. Jean-Marc and Eliane know that Roussillon has a warm Mediterranean climate and they strive in their winery to produce wines that showcase the Roussillon terroir. That means allowing the grapes to achieve the ripeness that a warm climate can bring which is reflected in fuller bodies and deeper concentration than wines of many regions.
Domaine Lafage’s Cuvée Centenaire is a delicious white wine showing all of the typicity of the great terroir of Roussillon. The wine is made primarily from two white species of Grenache, the most widely planted grape in the region. Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris make up 80% of the blend. All of the Grenache vines used in to make this wine are over 100 years old. Their age is what gives rise to the name “Cuvée Centenaire”. The balance of the blend is non-centenary Roussanne. Blends are typical of Roussillon, and varietal wines are less common. All of the grapes are harvested by hand, often a requirement in the more mountainous parts of this region. Quite deep gold in colour, this wine has the appearance that is typical of these varieties. On the nose we get notes of melon and pear along with hints of wet stones. The body is full and quite voluptuous. The acidity adds brightness and structure and keeps the texture plush but not fat. Complex flavours of various stone fruits are joined by just a hint of tropical notes. The finish is long and punctuated with citrus. This wine is excellent in terms of quality and at CDN$21 it is an exceptional value and captures the essence of Roussillon.
*The French #Winophiles is a group of wine writers that explores French food and wine on the third Saturday of every month. July’s theme is the white wines of Roussillon and we are pleased to share the links to the articles of this month’s participating writers:
Lynn from Savor the Harvest shares “Distinctive Roussillon White Wines for your Buy List”.
Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla tells us about “A Summer Pairing: Salade Niçoise + Bila-Haut Côtes du Roussillon Blanc 2017“.
Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm pairs “American Bay Scallops with French Roussillon Blanc”.
Cindy at Grape Experiences shares “A Perfect Al Fresco Lunch in Roussillon: Domaine d’Aussières Chardonnay 2018 and Creamy Crab Quiche”.
Jeff from foodwineclick presents “Banyuls Pet-Nat with Treats à La Buvette”.
Melanie at Wining With Mel tells us about her “Adventures in Roussillon white wines” #Winophiles.
Linda from My Full Wine Glass explains “A Roussillon blanc turns my thoughts toward chicken”.
Gwendolyn at Wine Predator is on the prowl for Roussillon White Wines.
Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicles talks about “Snow-capped Pyrenees to the Mediterranean Sea – exploring the stunning and diverse Roussillon wine region”.
Cathie from Side Hustle Wino shares “Why You Will Love the White Wines of Roussillon“.
Lauren at The Swirling Dervish blog tells us about “Biodynamics and the Butterfly Effect: A Labor of Love in Roussillon”.
Susannah from Avvinare shares “Muscat de Rivesaltes – A Marvel from Roussillon”.
Payal at Keep the Peas whips up “Northern Thai Food and a Roussillon Muscat”.
Katarina from Corkscrew Concierge “An Exploration of Roussillon White Wines”.
Terri from Our Good Life tells us about “Summer Love and White Wines from Roussillon”.