Roussillon wines will warm the soul as the rainclouds gather

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 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.

Calmel Joseph Côtes du Roussillon Villages
Calmel Joseph Côtes du Roussillon Villages

Cotes de Roussillon Villages ‘Occultum Lapidem’, Domaine de Bila-Haut 2011 (£18.95 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 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, 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

Liverpool Echo – South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner – The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Evening Gazette – Birmingham  Mail – Coventry Telegraph – Paisley Daily Express

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