Get­ting to know the wines of Rousil­lon

Montreal Times - - News -

It is not an easy en­deav­our to write ob­jec­tively about one of your favourite wine re­gions. Since I started drink­ing wine in my early 20’s, my dar­lings of wine have been Rous­sil­lon and the Rhone. There has been a few ad­ven­tures in Bordeaux, Al­sace and the South­west but you al­ways come back to your first love. In April, i vis­ited the Rhone and just a few weeks ago, I came back from the Rous­sil­lon.

The sunny re­gion of Rous­sil­lon is of­fi­cially one half of the Langue­docRous­sil­lon depart­ment in far south east­ern France, though the hy­phen is pretty much all that the two re­gions share. Si­t­u­ated in east­ern Pyre­nees, the re­gion pro­duces 2% of France na­tional wine out­put.

Rous­sil­lon is much smaller and more ob­scure than the big Langue­doc— and its in­hab­i­tants iden­tify them­selves as Cata­lan rather than French. This fact comes with a long his­tory at­tached: Once part of the prin­ci­pal­ity of Cat­alo­nia, Rous­sil­lon was passed be­tween Spain and France for hun­dreds of years.

What's not to love about Rous­sil­lon?. First, it's wine di­ver­sity. Rousil­lon makes wine from 23 dif­fer­ent grape va­ri­eties grouped in 9 PDO in dry wines ( Pro­tected De­nom­i­na­tion of Ori­gin), 3 IGP ( re­gional ap­pel­la­tion) of dry wines as well and 5 PDO in for­ti­fied wines.

Then there is the won­der­ful weather. In wine jar­gon the term “Mediter­ranean cli­mate” pretty much de­fines the de­li­cious con­di­tions that pre­vail here. En­vi­able, never end­ing sun­light and dry heat most of the year is nicely tem­pered by cool­ing sea winds. Ripe and healthy grapes mag­i­cally ap­pear in al­most ev­ery vin­tage, with great con­di­tions for most va­ri­etals. More im­por­tantly the most sun-lov­ing grapes like Gre­nache and Mourvè­dre can reach for their fullest flavour and power.The area gets 2530 hours of sun­light which trans­lates to 316 days per year.

Sec­ond, the aro­mas of the ter­roir. Rousil­lon, shares with the Rhone and Provence a dry land­scape dom­i­nated by a scrub known as ‘gar­rigue’, which im­part nu­ances of resinous wild herbs such as rose­mary and thyme to the lo­cal wines.Across my trip, I saw patches of that won­der­ful heady scented scrub.

UNEPWorld Con­ser­va­tion Mon­i­tor­ing Cen­tre de­fines gar­rigue as "dis­con­tin­u­ous bushy as­so­ci­a­tions of the Mediter­ranean cal­care­ous plateaus, which have rel­a­tively al­ka­line soils. It is of­ten com­posed of ker­mes oak, laven­der, thyme, and white cis­tus. There may be a few iso­lated trees."

In Rousil­lon, I saw dis­con­tin­u­ous patches of gar­rigue in wide and open spa­ces, and is of­ten ex­ten­sive. It is as­so­ci­ated with lime­stone and base rich soils com­posed of dif­fer­ent schists and chalk.Laven­der, sage, rose­mary, wild thyme and Artemisia are com­mon gar­rigue plants found in the re­gion.

Be­sides gar­rigue, It could be ar­gued that the ge­ol­ogy of Rous­sil­lon is a bit more su­pe­rior to other wine re­gion such as the Rhone. The more open-knit Rhone wines are born from sands, they say, and the more gutsy wines come from clays. But from a “min­er­al­ity” point of view, they are not ex­tremely in­ter­est­ing. By con­trast the Rous­sil­lon has a pal­ette of the salty sea on one side and on the other (in­land) it is in­vaded by the Pyre­nees huge rock for­ma­tions. Hence, most of Rous­sil­lon ben­e­fits from a good di­ver­sity of mi­cro­cli­mates,

Château Les Pins 2012 SAQ # 00864546. $20.70

from lime­stone, to di­verse types of schists

Third, the di­ver­sity of wine styles. Rous­sil­lon wines can be de­scribed as a cross be­tween the great wines of France's Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Spain's Pri­o­rat—when Many of the same red grapes are used:Syrah, Gre­nache, Mourvè­dre and Carig­nan among oth­ers—though Carig­nan has long been the blue chip in Rous­sil­lon.

There are ex­cel­lent white wines made in Rous­sil­lon, as well, and while the reds may take the lion’s share ( 69% of the pro­duc­tion is red), the whites, made from Gre­nache Blanc, Gre­nache Gris, Ma­cabeu, Mus­cat and other grapes, have elicited great in­ter­est re­cently, es­pe­cially among wine­mak­ers.Those were the wines that im­pressed me the most dur­ing my week in the re­gion.With a merely 5% of to­tal wine pro­duc­tion, I hope the share will con­tinue to grow in the near fu­ture.

It may sound strange to por­tray a re­gion with hun­dreds of years old of wine­mak­ing tra­di­tion as pos­sessed of "po­ten­tial," but Rous­sil­lon today is very dif­fer­ent than it was just a few decades ago. Un­til re­cently the re­gion was dom­i­nated by co­op­er­a­tives, and most pro­duc­ers turned out large quan­ti­ties of rough, rus­tic wines. There are ex­cel­lent pro­duc­ers mak­ing high qual­ity wines with an ex­cel­lent price ra­tio mostly in the $20-$30 range today.

( Syrah, Mourve­dre, Gre­nache Noir com­ing from shal­low peb­bly qua­ter­nary soil on ter­races with low wa­ter re­ten­tion)

Deep aro­matic ripe dark fruits with bal­samic un­der­tones bring­ing to mind licorice and eu­ca­lyp­tus. On the mouth, flavours bring­ing to mind notes of roasted herbs and cas­sis mar­malade. Struc­tured and racy with a lot of flesh and a solid tan­nic bite.

Mas Amiel Vers le Nord 2015 SAQ # 12773422. $36.50

( La Devéze par­celle from Maury AOP. 92% Gre­nache and 8% Syrah)

On the nose, lots of black cherry, or­ange blood and . men­thol notes. Smoky an­i­mal notes as well. On the mouth, gar­rigue in­fused with a pol­ished tex­ture and fluid fine tan­nins.

Vine­yards of Do­maine La Tour Vieille

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