France is prime wine making country. The diversity of its climate and terroir are virtually unmatched. The natural landscape, marked by varying altitudes, soil types and temperature, render it suitable for planting a sundry of international and indigenous grape varietals. Thousands of years of winemaking history, and established quality standards of production have helped to make France synonymous with ﬁne wine production. This has put the nation on practically every wine lover’s bucket list. But attempting to navigate the different wine regions of France can be a daunting task. Where do you start? I would say go south. The Roussillon in the South of France, lying between the Mediterranean Sea, Spain, and the Corbieres and Pyrenees Mountains, is among the most diverse of the French wine producing regions. Eighty six varietals (twenty four are AOC (Appelation d Origin Controlee) approved) including Macabeo, Carignan and Vermentino are planted in the Roussillon to produce every kind of wine including sparkling, white, rose’, red and fortiﬁed sweet. Close to three thousand family owned, privately held and cooperatively run vineyards spanning twenty one thousand hectares of clay, limestone, schist and gravel dominant soil enjoy three hundred and twenty days of sunlight annually. Production is small given the dry conditions and short pruning is the preferred method of vine training. The region is responsible for eighty percent of sweet wines (vin doux) originating from France.
The landscape is characterized by high elevations (some vineyards are located at altitudes as high as twenty meters above sea level). Its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea makes for warm days while the Mistral provides a cool breeze. From a technical point of view Roussillon clearly has all the necessary elements to achieve winemaking success.
After being given the opportunity to sample a selection of Roussillon wines and become acquainted with some of the region’s winemakers, it became apparent that, technical strengths aside, the appeal of wines from the Roussillon lie in their being expressions of each winemaker’s attitude and personal approach when it comes to deriving the best from the land while protecting it for posterity, and the winemaker’s wholehearted dedication and commitment to crafting wines that are expressive of not only the Roussillon terroir but also the unique characteristics of each of the many varietals that are cultivated here. The many different varieties of grapes and the varying climates and soil composition that exist within the Roussillon, as well as the individual interpretations Roussillon winemakers apply to the wines they create, give this region’s wines remarkable diversity.
Roussillon wines run the gamut of ﬂavor proﬁles. They can be fresh and aromatic, crisp and fruit driven, herbaceous and spicy, or full of honey sweetness and nuttiness. The broad range of ﬂavor proﬁles inherent in Roussillon wines also make them adaptable to many different cuisines.
Six Roussillon wines were paired with a well executed menu of French and Mediterranean fare at the Gramercy Park Hotel Terrace in New York City during a small press event to explore the broad breadth and scope of Roussillon wines.
A trio of hors d oeuvres including crab salad, and foie gras mousse bites and smoked salmon gougere was paired with an organic IGP Cotes Catalanes, Domaine Majas, 2017 consisting of forty ﬁve percent Macabeo, 45 percent Rolle and 10 percent Carignan Blanc.
This wine, characterized by aromas of white ﬂowers, coupled with bright citrus and green apple notes and balanced acidity, enhanced the subtly sweet and savory ﬂavors of these classic French delicacies.
A tender grilled octopus followed to accompany a Res Fortes, Rosé, Côtes de Roussillon, 2018 comprised of forty percent Grenache Noir, thirty percent Syrah, ﬁfteen percent Grenache Blanc, and ﬁfteen Grenache Gris with fresh berry aromas, young strawberry and raspberry notes and a subtle salinity. This wine from winemaker Moritz Bak balanced the earthy and slightly briny characteristics of this well crafted Mediterranean dish seamlessly.
A main course of roasted lamb chops further demonstrated the adaptability of Roussillon wines to a variety of dishes.
A duo of red wines including an IGP Cotes Catalanes, Les Vignerons de Tautavel- Vingrau, Le Cirque, 2014
with lush berry aromas, juicy notes of dark fruit and raspberries, and bright acidity (drink this wine young to maximize its freshness), and an AOP Cotes du Roussillon Villages Lesquerde Domaine de Bila Haut, Lesquerda, 2016 with ﬂoral aromas, chamomile, pepper and ripe berry notes, a subtly velvety structure, fresh acidity, and a soft and well rounded character complemented the roasted lamb chops. The fruit driven nature as well as the acidity of these red wines harmonized with the pungent and subtly smoky ﬂavors of this hearty dish.
A duo of cheese followed to cleanse the palate and prepare us for the first of two vin doux, a Roussillon specialty.
A silky Vignerons du Terrassous, Ambré hors d’âge 18 consisting of ﬁfty percent white Grenache and ﬁfty percent gray Grenache and marked by preserved peach and apricot jam, gingerbread, cinnamon and cardamom aromas, and candied fruit, preserved plum, orange peel and cool menthol notes accompanied the cheese. The pungency of the cheese along with its concentrated savoriness provided a nice contrast to the honey sweetness of this complex vin doux.
A decadent dark chocolate roulade provided an indulgently satisfying ending to a wonderful afternoon at the Gramercy Park Hotel Terrace. The richness of this dessert was an excellent complement to an AOP Banyuls, Domaine Vial Magnères, Al Tragou, 1988 comprised of ninety ﬁve percent Grenache and ﬁve percent Carignan.
It is important to note that AOP vin doux produced in Roussillon must be aged at least eighteen years. This over thirty year old vintage exhibited delicious aromas of sweet spice and candied orchard fruit, and notes of preserved lemon, orange and apricot jam, roasted chestnuts and baked bread, along with a velvety texture. The rich chocolate ﬂavors of this dessert combined with the nutty and concentrated ripe fruit elements of this aged vin doux to bring out the best characteristics of both the wine and the dessert. The duo of vin doux could have been desserts unto themselves but as the saying goes, everything is better with chocolate.
Photo Credit: Lydia Lee