Restoring the reputation of Roussillon

12 April 2021 by in Classic Wine Library, Wine and spirits

The coastal region of Roussillon, in France’s southernmost corner, has long languished in the shadow of its better-known neighbour, the Languedoc. But a new book, The wines of Roussillon, by Rosemary George MW, argues that after decades in the wine wilderness the region can now display to the world an impressive range of fine table wines and Vins Doux Naturels.

Roussillon’s reputation was founded on the popularity of its Vins Doux Naturels. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries these wines, particularly those of Rivesaltes, were celebrated by aristocracy, gastronomes and writers such as Voltaire, but since the 1980s their popularity has declined. The region became a victim of its own success and its wine­makers quickly had to learn how to make and sell table wines, or vins secs as they are known here. Before the 1980s, vins secs formed a very small part of Roussillon’s wine production. Its wine­makers are still honing their vin sec craft and the wines are relatively unknown – the oldest appellation, Collioure, is only 50 years old. The challenge faced by the region’s wine growers is therefore to restore the Vins Doux Naturels to their rightful place among the great fortified wines of the world whilst also creating a market for their table wines.

George describes the Vins Doux Naturels as “truly wonderful original wines” and would like to see the market for them grow. The problem seems to be one of perception, with even the region’s producers not knowing what to make of them – George tells us they serve whisky and pastis rather than Rivesaltes at their cooperative meetings. As for the reputation of the region, George finds it difficult to comprehend why, with wines of equal quality, Roussillon does not have the cachet of its Catalan cousin Priorat: “Like those of Roussillon, the fortified wines of Tarragona had a reputation, which has been superseded by the neighbouring table wines of Priorat. Why has Roussillon so far been unable to make a similar shift in reputation?”

Luckily, the region is home to some committed and innovative producers. As with many regions world wide, climate change has made viticulture difficult. Roussillon suffers particularly from drought, but the region’s growers have developed original ways of handling this, from seeking alternative, cooler sites or planting in more moisture-retentive soils (the region is blessed with a huge range of soil types) to installing solar panels to shield the vineyard and reduce evaporation. The wind-dried climate makes the region favourable for organic growing and non-conventional viticulture is increasing in popularity here – a quarter of the region’s vineyards are now farmed organically. George allows the growers themselves to provide most of the explanation of the region’s challenges and opportunities. Through them, and in George’s descriptions of their wines, we can see there is great potential in Roussillon if only it could become better known. This book takes a big step towards raising the region’s profile.

About the author
Rosemary George MW was one of the first women to become a Master of Wine (in 1979). The author of thirteen books, she has been a freelance wine writer since 1981. Her very first book, Chablis and the Wines of the Yonne, published in 1984, won both the André Simon and the Glenfiddich awards. For The Classic Wine Library she has written The wines of Chablis and the Grand Auxerrois, Wines of the Languedoc and The wines of Faugères. She contributes to various magazines, such as Decanter and Sommelier India and is the current President of the Circle of Wine Writers.

The wines of Roussillon is published by Infinite Ideas on 19 April 2021.
ISBN: 9781908984944, pb, rrp £30, 234 x 156mm, 294pp.
Also available as an eBook.
Review copies available from; 07802 443957

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