ROUSSILLON is the sunniest place in France, just over the Pyrenees from Spain. Sun and warmth. Remember that? I’ve been seeking it out in liquid form while the rain has been ceaseless.
You can turn to these wines to warm your soul alongside a gravy-rich casserole and some buttery mash. Peas too if you like.
The Côtes du Roussillon sits next to the Languedoc in the south of France and is one of the country’s most up-and-coming wine regions. The best vineyards in the north fall under the Côtes du Roussillon-Villages appellation. Red wines only here; powerful and complex wines with a good aging potential.
Not sure if the written word can describe how much I loved Calmel Joseph Côtes du Roussillon Villages, 2011 (£12, or £11 for six, at winetrust100.co.uk). Occasionally I find a wine I forget to drink (no sniggering at the back). I was engrossed by its beguiling aromas of rich ripe black fruits, herbs and – bear with me – rumours of a distant woodland campfire.
When I sipped, there were explosions of spicy berries, a beautiful depth of juicy black fruits, a rich mouthfeel and soft tannins. It is a blend of grenache, syrah, carignan, deep ruby and 14.5% abv. It won two golds at the 2013 International Wine Challenge, including the Cotes Du Roussillon Villages Trophy. Lovely.
Cotes de Roussillon Villages ‘Occultum Lapidem’, Domaine de Bila-Haut 2011 (£18.95 www.swig.co.uk) is also from the superior northern vineyards and a blend of syrah, grenache and carignan. Took me a while to grasp that the underlying nuance of its peppery black fruit aroma was a wet leather jacket. Some liquorice too. Bright acidity and pepper again to taste; with bitter sweet squeaky fresh blackberries. Complex and very interesting.
Saint Roch Côtes du Roussillon Syrah Grenache (£6.99, Morrisons and morrisonscellar.com 14% abv) nosed with lots of black fruit and a woody charm. Grapes are grown on old vines, which have cast aside the flippancies of youth and now concentrate on the best things in life; producing fewer grapes but with more intense flavours. For less than £7 you get a wine which is sunny and deep, peppery and fruity and best with food.
By contrast, the region is known for sweet wines. As I’m visiting Roussillon, metaphorically, then it would be rude not to look at a couple.
Croix Milhas Rivesaltes Ambré (£7.94 for half a bottle, Tesco) is a blend of grenache gris, grenache blanc, macabeau and muscat. It has had three years in oak which adds the nutty, caramel and coffee aromas which float above its amber hue. Fresh and zingy, oranges and nuts and dried fruits to taste. I had a slither of aged cheddar, (blue cheese would be best). It was sweet and savoury moreishness and my toes sensed its 16.5% abv.
Mas Amiel Vintage Blanc 2010 (£21.99, theperfectcellar.com 16% abv) It is a white Maury, with an interesting back story from grenache gris vine to glass. The fermentation is stopped by adding alcohol, which kills the yeasts, leaving lots of sugar in the wine. It is aged in two separate stages. I know it is over £20, but everything is relative – how much would you spend in a pub? This complex sweet wine is a delight. I sipped on its own, well chilled, though it would be ideal with desserts. It had a tangerine and citrus nose, a flirtation with honeysuckle. To taste, vibrant and zesty tangerine and grapefruit, and honey and crystallised fruits lingers after every sip.
Published in the saturday extra magazine February 1st 2014