Bill’s Best Bets – June 2017

The Roussillon
by Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

I often get asked that if I ever decided to make wine, where would it be? While there are many more famous regions in the wine world, my choice would be France’s Roussillon. In my books it has it all.

It is the most southern of France’s southern regions, a small square bordered by Spain to the south, and nestled in between the western coast of the Mediterranean and the Pyrenees mountain range. Its northern border is the beginning of France’s largest wine producing region, the Languedoc, which it was “fusioned” with in the 1970’s.

The culture and food is neither French nor Spanish, rather Catalan, which means I would have to learn a new language. The weather is perfect with warm summers and mild winters. It is one of the most beautiful places I have visited as the mountains seem to rise up straight out of the Mediterranean.

Of course there is the wine. Reds rule the land and old vines of grenache, and one of my favourite grapes, carignan, are plentiful. With my affection for whites, it is one of the most under-estimated white wine terroirs in France. Grown on schist and limestone soils, the grenache blanc and gris, macabeu and muscat offer up wines that can mysteriously show minerality, freshness and texture all in one gulp.

And if that isn’t enough, the region is also known for its fortified wines. In red, the appellations of Maury and Banyuls are famous for this port-styled wine while Muscat de Rivesaltes shows how the white muscat grape is equally able to handle being boozed up a little.

From a rosé aperitif right through to a fortified wine with dessert, this place can do it all, and equally well. So let’s start with the suggestions.

If a place makes red, then they can make a rosé. And much like the reds, you can find some pink wines with some torque. So if you are serving canapés like shrimp and tomato-based recipes like bruschetta or salsa, then try the 2016 from Ferre-Ribière. Fruit, spice and a nicely textured palate make it a perfect start to any meal.

Domaine Ferrer Ribière Vin Rosé 2016Domaine Gauby Les CalcinairesDomaine de la Rectorie l'Argile 2015

For the whites, you can find everything from lighter, more fish friendly wines all the way to those that can handle richer recipes. Many of my favourite wines are not available at the moment, but in the meantime, try one of my favourite wines that is on the shelf – the 2015 Calcinaires from Gérard Gauby. Incredible minerality with lobster loving fat. Awesome.

And while almost broaching the $40 plateau, one wine which is a staple of my cellar is Domaine de la Rectorie’s Cuvée Argyle. From the Collioure appellation, which is also the Banyuls appellation for fortified wines, this shows such finesse and depth. So complete and very ageworthy.

But the Roussillon is best known for their red wines. Grenache and carignan are the main varieties, but after the fusion with the Languedoc, many grape growers were told to plant syrah and mourvedre. While there is some fantastic syrah grown in higher elevations on granite soils, I find the best wines are those which are predominately grenache and carignan.

Wether you like new or old world wines, these reds play in that middle ground that will please all palates, and they are perfect for the summer BBQ season.

Domaine Cazes Marie Gabrielle 2016Chapoutier Marius 2015Domaine Du Clos Des Fées Les Sorcières 2015Parcé Frères Zoé 2015

This is not to say you can’t find chuggable wines. Both the 2016 Marie Gabrielle from Domain Cazes and the 2015 Marius from Chapoutier are full of fruit while showing a slight herbal, garrigue note. Both are biodynamic and under $19.

But torque and sun-drenched fruit with ripe tannins are really the identity of the Roussillon. Try the 2015 Les Sorcières from Domaine Clos des Fees for a good syrah-based blend, or the 2015 Cuvee Zoé from Percé Frères for a more classic grenache/carignan mix.

These four reds are all under $20. But if you want more complexity, depth and ageability, then there is no lack of choice. If you drink more new world wines, then try the 2014 Tessellae. While verging on jammy, there is enough acidity and structure to keep it tight. For a more classic expression of carignan, the Puig Parahÿ Carignan will show the dark fruits, meat and rustic tannins I love so much about this grape.

Tessellae Old Vines Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre Côtes Du Roussillon 2014Le Puig Parahÿ Côtes De Roussillon Carignane De La Perpignane 2013Mas Amiel Vers Le Nord 2013Domaine Gauby Vieilles Vignes 2014

And finally, two wines that for me show the potential of the Roussillon reds. While drinkable now, they are candidates for long cellaring. The 2013 Vers le Nord from Mas Amiel and the 2014 Vieilles Vignes from Gauby are both well worth the investment.

The fortified wines require an article on their own as there are too many to choose from. We’ll tackle those in the  Fall.

Enjoy the beginning of summer folks,


“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial

You can find complete critic reviews, prices and availability by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images. Premium subscribers to Chacun son vin see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon