France: Languedoc Roussillon

North and West of Perpignan

Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Rivesaltes and Maury
By Richard James

This Guide was last updated on 22 April 2010
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Main grape varieties

Red

Carignan
Thrives well on the hills on schist soils. It produces lively, aromatic and tannic wines with good colour when grown on old vines with low yields. Was being systematically pulled up for decades but, as there are more and more, characterful, single-variety wines being made (plus the fact that an imminent rule change will mean Syrah is no longer mandatory in AC red blends), some growers are now replanting it.

Syrah
Ripens early and tends to get overripe except at altitude. However, when vinified carefully it gives wines with rich colour, peppery perfume and good structure. Plantings are on the increase.

Mourvèdre
This late ripener, which ripens well in south-facing vineyards, grows best on pebbly slopes where it is less likely to suffer from the effects of drought. It produces wines with good colour, structure and aromas.

Grenache
Thrives in dry conditions, but it is susceptible to disease. The wines are rich in aromas and texture. Used for both Roussillon reds and rosés and notably for Maury.

Cinsault
Results in supple, light wines and is particularly suited for rosé production.

Lladoner Pelut
Used in the blend for some Côtes du Roussillon wines, it is quite similar (and believed to be related) to Grenache, but less prone to disease. Plantings are small, but on the increase.


White

Grenache Blanc
Used in blends to add supple fruit and body.

Grenache Gris
This orangey-pinkish-grey skinned variety almost became extinct due to thoughtless pulling-up, but it is now treasured by growers at the forefront of a quality dry white wine renaissance. Grenache Gris gives lovely exotic fruit and spicy intensity and responds well to fermentation or ageing in barrel.

Tourbat
Also known as Malvoisie du Roussillon, a traditional (and slowly disappearing) variety used in Côtes du Roussillon and in Vin Doux Naturel blends.

Macabeu
Useful blending ingredient for Roussillon whites, especially old-vine fruit which adds aromatic and mineral qualities, and increasingly on its own in a new generation of barrel-fermented wines.

Rolle/Vermentino
Used occasionally in Côtes du Roussillon blends.

Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains
Low yielding delicate variety with lovely grapey, orange flower flavours used both for Rivesaltes VDN and for Muscat Sec. Being replanted in preference to Muscat of Alexandria.

Muscat of Alexandria
Sometimes less fine than Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains, used for both Rivesaltes VDN and for Muscat Sec. It can be quite successful for dry wines providing aniseed characters and fresh structure.


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