Roussillon Wines promotes themselves as "The Other French Vintage Wine," although I think the region needn’t concede so much to the better known areas like Bordeaux and Burgundy. For years I have sought out wines from the south of France as being more in my own personal wheelhouse, and for better value.
I spoke with Aracil recently, and he gave me some insight into the region as a whole, and into several samples that had been provided to me for the purpose.
Roussillon is usually tossed into the collective region of Languedoc-Roussillon-Midi-Pyrénées, but it occupies the southernmost point in that conglomeration.
Aracil told me that terroir diversity is Roussillon’s calling card. The wide variety of terroirs allow for many different grapes to be used, 23 in all, including four kinds of Grenache. The region produces about 95% still wine.
As you might expect, Roussillon winemakers are working from a heritage that stretches back centuries - 28 centuries, in fact. This, added with the relative "grape freedom" of the area, means that Roussillon’s winemakers have one of the most wide-open fields for exploration and experimentation in France.
Aracil likes to point to the growing of the grapes in Roussillon as the jumping-off point for great bottles of wine. The vines, he says, send their roots down ten meters or more to gather in the nutrients offered by the subsoil and gain protection from the dry climate. He says the vines tend to have a low yield, which is always a good news/bad news joke for winegrowers. The good news is the aromas and flavors are more concentrated in a low yield. The bad news is you have fewer of those remarkable grapes to sell.
Each vineyard, Aracil says, has its own set of microclimates. The contour of the land gives different exposures to the sun, and altitudes range from the valley floor to the mountains, from the seaside to inland. This offers a wide array of acidity levels and ripeness. Generally, he says, Roussillon winemakers like to avoid overripeness, over extraction and overoaking.
In coming articles, we will explore some specific wines from the region.
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