In May of 2019, I was fortunate enough to tour the Roussillon wine region for five days and taste more than 100 different wine brands. Though Roussillon is most famous for its Grenache grapes (see below), it is also well-known for Muscat, Syrah, Carignan, and produces at least 20 other varietals. Altogether Roussillon has over 420 wineries and 29 cooperatives.
The Four Colors of Roussillon Grenache
It is worth taking a minute to describe the four different colors/flavors of Grenache in Roussillon, because this is their signature grape. These descriptions were provided by Eric Aracil, Deputy Director of the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Roussillon, who explained this while we were standing in a vineyard examining the various types of Grenache:
- Grenache Blanc brings floral, pear, sometimes peach, and a touch of green dill to the wine.
- Grenache Gris provides a twist of citrus, gunpowder, and structure.
- Grenache Noir is known for its fresh, fruity raspberry, cherry, and plum notes.
- Blue Grenache (also known as hairy Grenache because the leaves are hairy underneath) has blue red grapes and provides structure, fig, guava and a touch of iron or blood notes.
Five Famous Roussillon Wineries
Domaine Gauby – Located in the tiny town of Calce, Domaine Gauby is a truly authentic expression of Roussillon soil. Using biodynamic principles of farming and winemaking, Gerard Gauby is passionate about the land and expressing the true terroir and vintage variations. He took us on a walk through the old vineyards, of which he owns 40 hectares, including some 90 year old Grenache vines. It was a beautiful spring morning, with many wildflowers between the vines and wild birds overhead. Afterwards we tasted numerous wines and had a delicious lunch in the modest cellars. I was especially impressed with the vibrancy of his white wines, with a zesty energy and pure mineral streak running through the wines. Two of my favorites were: 2018 Jasse Orange Wine – a dry Muscat, with apricot, lemon, and minerality – absolutely delicious! 2018 Calcinaires Blanc – fresh, zesty, textured, made from a blend of Vermentino, Chardonnay, and Grenache Blanc.
Mas Amiel Winery – this is one winery that no wine lover should miss. Located in the Maury wine region of Roussillon, I was blown away by the field of VND wines aging in demi-johns (called bon bons) in the bright sun. They leave them there for one year, before moving back into the 130 old cellars to age in giant wooden foudres for anywhere from 10 to 40 years in an oxidative fashion. Truly amazing! We were told that the VDN’s (Vin Doux Natural) are made from 70% Grenache as the flesh, with some Carignan as the Skeleton and Syrah as the Muscles – an intriguing analogy. The winery itself has a modern tasting room and design, with older outbuildings. Altogether they have 145 hectares of vines, produce 35,000 cases annually and are certified organic, moving towards biodynamic. We tasted 12 wines here (both dry and sweet), and the highlights for me were: 2016 MA Sec Legende Maury made from 80% Grenache Noir and 20% Carignan with the grapes coming from a 1949 vineyard; and notes of fresh raspberry jam with a textured palate. The MA Maury 40 Year Fortified – made from 100% Grenache and fortified to 16%, this wine started with a floral lifted nose, then enticed with dried orange peel, spice, caramel, and a long elegant finish.
Lafage Winery – Started by Jean-Marc Lafage, who grew up in the region, but traveled around the world to work in other wineries until he realized that Roussillon was the ideal place to establish a winery. Therefore, he returned to build a world class winery and implement his theme of “restless innovation” to create a line of fascinating wine brands. The winery is located very close to the ocean outside the town of Perpignan, so it is easy to find. Altogether they have 200 hectares of vineyards, are certified sustainable, produce over 2 million bottles per year, and export 75% of their production to 30 countries. Considered to be one of the major wine players in Roussillon, this is an important winery to visit, and we enjoyed the tour of the modern cellars and tasting room. We tasted 10 wines here, and two favorites for me were: Centenaire 2018 White Sec – very aromatic, textured, medium-bodied white blend with juicy lemon and white peach, long and lovely. Domaine Lafage Miraille 2016 – made with Grenache and Mourvèdre, this wine had a lifted violet nose, mixed black fruit, velvety tannins, good concentration, a hint of anise and earth; rich, long and warm to the finish.
Domaine Cazes – established in 1895, I was delighted by the Mediterranean design of this winery with stucco walls, tiles, flowers, fountains and palm trees. Located near the ocean in the town of Rivesaltes, it boasts a small charming tasting room as well as restaurant, and they have won prizes for wine tourism. Altogether, they have 185 hectares of organic and biodynamic vines, and focus production on 25% sweet wines. Their icon brand is Le Credo – a massive red blend designed to age for years and inspired by the wines of Priorat. The wine actually has its own “throne room” at the winery. The family also owns two other wineries in Roussillon. We tasted seven wines here and highlights for me were: Cap Bear 2018 Grenache Gris – great acidy, zippy, mineral citrus, fresh and lovely; and Aime Cazes 1978 AOP Rivesaltes – a 22 year old sweet tawny with apricot, gingerbread, and lemon peel – yum! Le Credo 2012 – made from old vines circa 1900, this wine was filled with savory notes, black fruit, peppery, earth and anise; massive tannins, textured, long, and concentrated.
Chateau Valmy – this winery looks like a fairy-tale castle with its big beautiful chateau set high on a hill overlooking the ocean. Located a few miles outside the charming seaside village of Collioure, Chateau Valmy was originally built in 1900, but fell into disrepair and “slept until 1995” when it was resurrected by the new owners. Today they have 25 hectares of vineyards, produce 120,000 bottles and sell 60% direct to consumer. This is because they are a very popular wine tourism location, known for not only their delicious wines and great ocean views, but also for the summer concerts that have been known to attract more than 10,000 people to hear the music of bands such as Santana. We tasted 8 wines here, and two of my favorites were: Première Rose de Valmy 2017 – fresh strawberries, light and elegant; made from 100% Grenache, Subtils Privilèges de Valmy – a sparkling wine made of Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, 9 months aging in bottle, with floral top note and textured pear with lemon finish.