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Roussillon – France’s Most Exciting Vineyards

If I told you that France’s most exciting vineyards were to be found in the CDRV then you’d either reckon I was talking about a new chain of supermarkets or you’d just nod wisely and open another bottle of ‘Clot de l’Oum’. But more and more wine-lovers are hearing the tales and finding stray bottles that confirm the rumours: France has found a terroir where the ancient rules no longer apply and new methods can be experimented with.

We are talking about the “Cotes de Roussillon Villages” appellation in the southern-most part of France, between the Corbières and the Spanish border. On the fringes of this official region there are other smaller, wilder and untamed vine-growing areas with tongue-twisting names like ‘Vins de Pays des Coteaux de Fenouillèdes’ that are attracting interest from wine-makers from as far afield as Australia and South Africa. In what Wine writer Jancis Robinson has described as ‘spaghetti western terrain’ young wine-makers are experimenting new techniques with ancient established grapes like Carignan and Mourvèdre, reducing the yield to extract concentrated flinty, mineral wines of extraordinary strength and character.

Also within the CDRV appellation is the tiny appellation of Maury, a sweet dark dessert wine, traditionally aged and ‘maderisé’ in oak barrels left of the roofs of the farms. Tastes have changed and the younger vignerons feel free to bend the rules and use this schist-rich land to produce exceptional reds. Officials who control French wine appellations appear to be turning a blind eye, knowing that if France can’t innovate and follow world trends then the New World wines will win out. Perhaps it’s due to the region’s heretical past when 13th century religious dissenters of the Cathar persuasion defied central authority with their tenacious movement and held out in mountain-top strongholds against the power of Rome. These Cathar castles still dominate the Agly valley at Quéribus and Puilaurens, dramatic witnesses to past struggles.

Roussillon’s wines are not limited to the CDRV but: there are the ‘other’ CDR wines in the vast plain north and south of Perpignan which include some stunning whites (the Muscat Sec) as well as some very drinkable reds. Towards the coast we find the mini-appellations of Collioure around the seaside village of the same name and the sweet white dessert wines of Banyuls. Chocolate lovers will note that of all the wines in the world only two are generally recommended to go with any chocolate dish: Maury and Banyuls.

Morrell Oliver is a wine and food writer and travel planner living and working in South West France.

site: francealacarte.com francealacarte.com

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