An Exploration of Roussillon White Wines #Winophiles
This month, the French #Winophiles have turned their attention to Roussillon white wines. Hosted by Lynn Gowdy of Savor the Harvest a group of us are exploring, tasting, and pairing the wines of the region with some tasty eats.
Situated between mountains1 and the Mediterranean Sea, there is a lot to love about Roussillon. Crisp mountain air, long stretches of beach, abundant sunshine, and grapes for days. It’s all there.
And while this region has much of which to be proud, more often than not, most of us speak of it in terms of the greater Languedoc-Roussillon as the regions were officially combined several decades ago. I have certainly been guilty of this and had never really honed in on the differences between the two regions. Even when studying for my wine certifications, I would happily avoid this seemingly small area as my brain was already full of all things France. But let’s be clear – Languedoc and Roussillon, though often appended, each has its own distinct characteristics and have much to offer culturally.
Some Roussillon Background
Given its geographic location, Roussillon has more in common with neighboring Spain than France.
In fact, it was under Spanish control for years and considers itself a part of Catalonia. Residents even speak a French Catalonian dialect.
I personally know and love Roussillon for its sweet fortified wines called ‘vins doux naturels’ – think Banyuls and Maury. In fact, I still recall my first experience with Maury when I dined at Le Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower. The Maury was paired with a decadent chocolate nut dessert and OMG! That experience is still one of the top dining experiences of my life.
The sweet fortified wines of the region have stood out, not only because they are damn delicious, but because the still, non-fortified wines were unremarkable at best. But that has been changing and continues to change as new producers move in and invest in the area. Many are focused on producing low-yield, high-quality grapes and crafting organic and biodynamic wines in red, white, and rosé styles. In fact, Roussillon leads France in organic viticulture and biodynamic practices. Add in the fact that many of the wines come at great values and its clear to see why so many are excited about Roussillon.
And while Roussillon white wines represent only a fraction of total production, they are some of the most interesting wines of the region and are certainly worth seeking out. Part of that interest stems from the fact that producers are increasingly making white wines with various degrees of skin maceration as well as embracing the use of oak. Need a little background? See my recent article on skin contact white wines. That being said, producers certainly still continue to make some direct press “traditionally made” white wines as well. But in a nutshell, I love these guys because they are embracing the unconventional and doing some interesting things. And if you want to explore French wine on a budge, here’s a good place to start.
Though renowned for its sweet wines, dry wine is made in fifteen different AOCs/AOPs2 and three IGPs within the greater Roussillon region. Of these, only a handful produce dry white wines including:
Grapes of Roussillon
Growing conditions in the region allow for a wide variety of grapes to be grown and there are 25 that are usually used in production. This is definitely a region that allows you to put the old stand-by wines on the back burner and learn about some new and different wines. As far as grape varieties for Roussillon white wines are concerned, Grenache (Blanc and Gris), Vermentino, Roussanne, Marsanne, Malvoisie du Roussillon, Muscat à Petits Grains, Muscat d’Alexandrie, and Macabeu are some of the more prevalent white varieties grown in the region. Both Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris often form the basis of the region’s wine blends, with the others providing a supporting role.
Of course, this isn’t always the case. Overall the white wines of the region are known for being full-bodied with notable acidity, minerality, and complex flavors.
Pairing the Wines
I chose two different Roussillon white wines to explore and pair.
2016 Domaine La Tour Vieille ‘Les Canadells’, Collioure, Roussillon
The first wine I tasted and paired was the La Tour Vieille ‘Les Canadells’ Collioure. As noted above, Collioure is a Roussillon AOC for white wine. This particular wine is crafted of 40% grenache gris, 30% grenache blanc, 10% macabeu, 10% roussanne, and 10% vermentino. The grenache gris is pressed immediately after harvest while the other varietals undergo a short skin maceration. 70% of the wine is fermented in stainless steel, while 30% wine is fermented in oak barrels with a regular stirring of the lees.
This was one of those wines that I initially had a difficult time describing. It had a lot going on – in a good way. Lots of minerality and acidity along with lemon-lime, peach, pear, and a touch of salinity. But it also showed some roundness and richness from the oak and was just a fun wine to drink. Definitely a wine that needs a meal and we loved it with ours.
We paired the wine with a crusted redfish, farro, and grilled okra (one of my absolute fave summer veggies). This was a great pairing all around as the flavors all really complemented each other. The true essence of a summer meal.
2017 Le Casot Des Mailloles “Obreptice” Blanc
The second wine we paired showed a little more funk. Yasss, funk can be good when it comes to wine! Sipping on this, I could hear George Clinton and Parliament singing “Oww we want the funk. We gotta have that funk.” Le Casot De Mailloles is one of the smallest vineyards in Banyuls and is regarded by many as one of, if not the best producer of dry wines in Banyuls. As Banyuls is an AOC for fortified, dessert wine, this particular wine is declassified as a Vin de Table/Vin de France wine. This effort was mostly Vermentino with a small amount of Marsanne. It is a skin macerated wine with fermentation and maturation on the lees in stainless steel vats, use of native yeasts, no added sulfites, and no filtration, which was evident by its cloudy appearance and bits of sediment floating around in the bottle. With its organic, biodynamic, and vegan pedigree, its about as natural as you can get in a wine. Along with a little funk, this one had some tart citrus, peach and mineral notes along with notable salinity.
We paired this wine two ways. The first paring was with cornmeal-crusted fried green tomatoes with lump crab over an arugula salad. The sour, bitter note from the wine really worked with the arugula and the tart green tomato. My taste buds were humming happily along with this pairing.
As we had some leftover wine, we did a second pairing with grilled cauliflower steaks, mushrooms, and chicken sausage – all of which were prepared on the smoker. Yes, I’m still obsessed with the smoker. The savory umami (ness?) of the mushrooms and cauliflower were also a great match for the wine as it was truly a pairing of umami vs more umami.
Drinking wines like these really helps me to appreciate the art of wine and food paring more and more. These are wines that were made to have a place on the dinner table.
Be sure to check out what Roussillon white wines the other French #Winophiles are drinking and pairing.
- 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”
- Allison and Chris from ADVineTURES discuss “Domaine Lafage Cuvée Centenaire: The Essence of Rousillon”
- Melanie at Wining With Mel tells us about her “Adventures in Roussillon white wines” #Winophiles
- Linda from My Full Wine Glass explains “A Dry Roussillon blanc turns my thoughts toward chicken”
- Gwendolyn at Wine Predator shares “M. Chapoutier’s Cotes du Roussillon Blanc Paired with Halibut Baked in Lemon Butter #Winophiles “
- 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”
- Terri from Our Good Life tells us about “Summer Love and White Wines from Roussillon”
- Nicole at Somm’s Table has “Fun with Ramen & Saint-Roch Cotes du Roussillon Vieilles Vignes Blanc”
- Lynn at Savor the Harvest shares “Distinctive Roussillon White Wines for your Buy List”
And for my Texas peeps, the folks at Wines of Roussillon recently published an article on where to find their wines in Texas here. Cheers to Roussillon White Wines!