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Roussillon Wine Guide II

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Meet Roussillon

Largely unknown outside France for some time, Roussillon is attracting the interest of sommeliers and wine enthusiasts across the world. With a distinctive range of micro-terroirs, exceptional fruit from old vines, and well-established viticultural know-how, there are many factors which make this southern French region so compelling.

Innovative and creative winemakers—many of whom focus on creating organic and biodynamic wines—are bringing a new vigor to the region. Roussillon offers a tantalizing selection of dry white, rosé, and red wines at great value, and is particularly renowned for its world-class vins doux naturels, or fortified sweet wines. Roussillon also leads in its commitment to organic and biodynamic viticulture, possessing the highest percentage of organic and biodynamic vineyards in the country.

Geography

Roussillon is characterized by a diversity of wines & terroirs. It is shaped like an amphitheater, with its long, curved Mediterranean coastline stretching from the Pyrenees to the Corbières Mountains. With an average of 325 days of sunshine a year, it’s France’s driest and hottest region. In Roussillon, the summers are hot; autumns and winters tend to be mild. Rainfall accumulates primarily in the autumn and early spring. The region’s unique geology and microclimates allows each of the 24 authorized grape varieties to reach its fullest expression in these soils. 

History

As s the case with some of the other areas we’ve explored, the viticulture of Roussillon was established by the Greeks in the 7th century BC. At that time, Greek traders from Corinth were involved in a profitable trade in iron, and when they settled in Côte Vermeille (near the border with Spain), they brought vines from Greece.

In what should be a now-familiar progression, Roussillon’s viticulture was further developed by the Romans, who expanded into the Narbonnaise, one of the four provinces of Roman Gaul, which became the main trading hub for wine and remained so for many years.

From the 13th century onward, trade in Roussillon wines turned toward Catalonia to the south, and also to Italy in the east. The area was ruled by the Spanish kingdoms of Majorca and Aragón from the 13th through the 17th centuries. The period did not  favor winemaking in Roussillon. Nonetheless, the reputation of Roussillon wines grew with time. Most of the wines exported to the capital were sweet wines—they traveled better, their taste was unique, and their high price made up for transport costs.

Roussillon did not become part of France until 1659. Even today, many people in the area identify themselves as Catalan.