WineWriting.com & French Mediterranean Wine
Richard Mark James' wine and travel blog

07 June 2018

France, Roussillon: white wines

This is one of a handful of mini-features on the 'French Catalan' region of the Roussillon - the Eastern Pyrenees is the official département name (Perpignan, Rivesaltes, Maury, Collioure, Banyuls-sur-mer, erm... the bit in the middle (called Les Aspres) and way out west/south-west to Font Romeu and skiing country...) - which have been divided into simple 'best whites' and 'best reds' type hit lists (with a hint of commentary to set the scene), gleaned from a succinct tour and extensive tastings in situ last month in addition to a couple of trips last year. Another piece will reveal my pick of a rich variety of Vins Doux Naturels, those sweet fortified and often matured wines this region is traditionally perhaps better known for, from new-wave chunky youthful reds to sublime senior-citizen vintages of distinctly golden-brown-tinged cask-aged 'whites'. Finally, a fruity posting celebrating some of their delicious undiscovered rosés might also surface at some point... Take a look too at the previous post to this one, which is themed around the Grenache variety pitching some fine Australian reds against a tasty selection from Maury in the northern Roussillon (or click here).
This seems a more obvious way of highlighting my favourite wines and producers without delivering a wordy lesson (you'll have to wait for my book on the Roussillon for that) on supposed appellation hierarchies and which ones are thus supposed to make the best wines. Like anywhere else, when you sample a large amount of wines in a concentrated time-frame (and blind-tasted for a good number of them), it's pretty clear that it comes down to individual quality producers at the end of the day rather than one area being better than another purely because it has say 'village' status, superior terroir or whatever.
Challenging vine-scape between Banyuls-sur-mer and Collioure: the old and the new.
Having said that and coming swiftly back to dry white wines, the Collioure region on the Spanish border (Med-side) is, generally, a great example of where a cru appellation (a, in principle, more tightly defined sub-zone based on more specific quality criteria) idea has actually translated well into the final 'product'. Created in 2003 for white wines, as opposed to red Collioure in 1971, it appears that winemakers made the most of taking their time to get it right in terms of varieties, sites and production techniques. I probably tasted half as many whites as reds from this area (covers demarcated vineyards between and behind Collioure, Port-Vendres, Banyuls-sur-mer and Cerbère) yet found a good deal more stand-out white wines to recommend. And surprise surprise, certain winegrowers have indeed been focusing on planting more, for instance, Grenache blanc and gris and Vermentino in recent years.
Admittedly, these Collioure whites can be on the dear side (cellar door price of sometimes €15 to €20 and up to €30 or more for top cuvées), although unfortunately production costs do play a brutal role in keeping prices up here - rough steep difficult to work vineyards and rather low yields (see photo above) - as well as arguably a drop of marketing chic naming the wines after that chi-chi upmarket seaside town. There are some excellent dry whites being made in the northern and central Roussillon as well, of course, but these are all labelled as Côtes du Roussillon blanc or IGP Côtes Catalanes (the latter usually because a wine is varietal or contains a variety not 'sanctioned' by appellation rules, and/or the winemaker isn't interested in these anyway) since there are no other village appellation zones for whites outside of Collioure. 

RMJ's TOP WHITE WINES
30 must-try dry whites...

Southern Roussillon

Cave de L'Abbé Rous 2017 Collioure Cuvée des Peintres (Grenache gris 60%, Grenache blanc 25%, Marsanne, Roussanne & Vermentino 15%; just part barrel-fermented) - Aromatic aniseed, crisp and yeast lees-y with elegant finish. Good value at c. €10.
Domaine Cazes Les Clos de Paulilles 2017 Collioure blanc (Grenache blanc 80%, Grenache gris 20%; 5 to 6 months ageing on lees, no oak) - Richer and more exotic than above vs subtle 'mineral' intensity. €18
Clos Saint Sébastien 2016 Collioure Inspiration Minérale (plot selection of old-vine Grenache gris and blanc, barrel fermented) - Buttery and concentrated vs underlying zesty texture and freshness, delicious although dear. €28
Domaine Madeloc 2016 Collioure Cuvée Trémadoc (Grenache gris, Roussanne, Vermentino; barrel fermented/aged up to 8 months) - Toasty buttery start but with aromatic lees and exotic fruit combo, tasty northern Rhone style.
2015 Collioure Cuvée Penya (barrel selection of Grenache gris and Vermentino) - Surprisingly not oakier even though 25% new barrels are used, fresh and lively underneath a textured lees-y palate with exotic fruit, powerful and long.
M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila Haut 2016 Collioure Chrysopée (Grenache gris (90%) and blanc, barrel fermented/aged 6 months overall) - Oily and nutty textures and flavours vs crisp and lingering with light bitter twist. Celebrity price too: €54.
Domaine Augustin 2016 Collioure Adéodat (old vine Grenache gris/blanc, barrel fermented/aged 6 to 8 months) - Toasted tones too but this is rich and buttery with powerful finish. €26
Domaine de la Rectorie 2016 Collioure L'Argile (Grenache gris (90%) and blanc, barrel fermented with 8 months on the lees) - Classy white showing subtle balance between weight and delicacy. €24/£20
Domaine La Casa Blanca 2015 Collioure blanc (Grenache gris and blanc from north-facing slopes, 50-50 vat/cask) - Almond notes and intense tangy palate, almost dry Montilla-esque in style, lovely crisp vs powerful finish.
Domaine Traginer 2015 Collioure blanc (Grenache blanc and gris, Malvoisie, Vermentino) - Peachy and quite rich with yeast-lees depth and nutty edges, powerful finish; very nice. €22.50/$27
Consolation 2015 Côtes Catalanes Juliette (Roussanne, 6 months in barrels) - Rich and buttery but deftly handled with good balance. €16

Central Roussillon

Domaine Treloar 2015 and 2016 Côtes Catalanes La Terre Promise (Grenache gris, Macabeu, Carignan blanc; wild ferment and ageing in barrel, 10% new oak, for 6 to 9 months) - Creamy and nutty with aromatic aniseed notes, juicy ripe fruit and weighty mouth-feel with very nice long finish. €14/£17
Domaine Lauriga 2015 and 2016 Côtes du Roussillon Soleil blanc (Grenache blanc, Macabeu, 6 months in barrels) - Quite toasty to start, well made though with creamy lees and nicely balanced buttery vs aromatic aniseed and crisp profile. €13-€15/£13.50
Pierre Talayrach 2015 Côtes Catalanes Secret de Pierre (Muscat d'Alexandrie, 7 months in barrels) - Characteristically Muscat-y and orange notes but it's quite rich and rounded with light toast, creamy yet aromatic too; very different. €12.80
Domaine Lafage 2015 Côtes du Roussillon La Grande Cuvée blanc (Grenache gris, Macabeu) - Tasty mix of ripe and powerful with subtle oak and refreshing acidity; very good. €19.50/£19
Domaine Vaquer 2015 Côtes du Roussillon L'Exception blanc (Grenache blanc and gris, Macabeu, barrel-fermented/aged for a year) - 'Natural'-esque style with Fino and cider edges but very good with it, intense and long. c. €20

Northern Roussillon

Arnaud de Villeneuve 2017 Côtes Catalanes Chardonnay Réserve - A surprise and one of a handful of good Chardies I've tried from the region (some made by co-op wineries like this one too), this was very tasty with lively juicy yeast-lees characters and creamy mouth-feel. Expensive though: €35.
Domaine Pouderoux Lavista 2016 Lavista Collection (field blend of six varieties) - Enticingly juicy, aromatic and distinctive with lovely zesty finish. £12/$13
Domaine Cazes 2016 Côtes du Roussillon Ego blanc (Grenache blanc, Marsanne; unoaked) - Oily vs 'salty' profile mix, plenty of depth and character. €12
Domaine Gardiès 2016 Côtes du Roussillon Les Glaciaires (Roussanne, Grenache blanc, Macabeu) - Alluring mix of yeast-lees, freshness, aromatic and exotic fruit, long stylish finish. €16/£12.50/$20
Domaine Laguerre 2015 Côtes du Roussillon Le Ciste blanc (Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache blanc, Vermentino) - Hints of coconut grain, concentrated yet with tight acid structure and exotic fruit underneath; fair length and class. €17/$17
Domaine Rombeau 2015 Côtes du Roussillon Andrea (Grenache blanc and gris, Marsanne) - Rombeau's white is consistently good and age-worthy too: ripe and buttery with peachy fruit but still crisp and alive.
La Coume du Roy 2015 Côtes Catalanes Désir (Macabeu, Grenache gris) - Appley and nutty, quite intense and concentrated with long nutty and crisp finish. €13/£15
Les Clos Perdus 2015 Côtes Catalanes L'Extreme blanc (Grenache blanc, gris and noir) - This varied-location estate includes one block (very old: planted in 1898!) near Mas Las Fredas between Maury and Tautavel, source of this lovely textured nutty wild-ferment (in barrel) white with aromatic appley and exotic fruit notes. Fairly dear though: €30/£25.
Domaine Pithon 2015 Maccabeu (block selection, barrel-fermented) - Intense white with well-balanced mix of lively 'mineral' notes and nice 'oily' backdrop; very good but expensive: €34.
Domaine de l'Ausseil 2015 La Palummella (Grenache blanc and gris, Macabeu) - Quirky skin-macerated style with 'real cider' notes but has lovely texture and very intense mouth-feel; wow, 'natural' man but good with it. €26/£22
Clos des Fées 2015 Côtes Catalanes Grenache blanc Vieilles Vignes (+10% Grenache gris, which is barrel-fermented; 5 to 8 months lees-ageing) - Bit of a classic combining juicy and exotic fruit with very good concentration. €18-€20/£18-£20
Gilles Troullier 2010 Côtes Catalanes L'Imprévue (old vine Grenache gris and blanc) - Very different with a little bottle age, lovely nutty appley notes combine with rich oily texture and depth. Delicious.

OTHER RECOMMENDED WHITES
50 more to be tempted by...

South

Clos Saint Sébastien 2016 Collioure Empreintes
Cave de L'Abbé Rous 2016 Collioure Cornet & Cie
Domaine La Tour Vieille 2016 Collioure Les Canadells
Domaine Vial-Magnères 2016 and 2014 Collioure Le Petit Couscouril
Domaine du Grand Chene 2016 Côtes du Roussillon L'Edat
Mas Christine 2015 Côtes du Roussillon blanc
Coume del Mas 2015 Collioure Folio

Centre

Domaine Lafage 2017 Côtes du Roussillon Centenaire blanc
Château Nadal Hainaut 2017 Côtes Catalanes Chardonnay Prestige
Château Corneilla Vignobles Jonquères d’Oriola 2016 Côtes du Roussillon Cavalcade blanc
Domaine de la Meunière 2016 Côtes Catalanes Impromptu blanc
Domaine Trilles 2016 Côtes Catalanes Tio Tio 
Domaine de la Perdrix 2016 Côtes du Roussillon Joseph Sébastien Pons and 2015 Côtes du Roussillon Charakter.
Cap de Fouste 2016 Côtes Catalanes Taquin blanc
Domaine Boucabeille 2016 Les Terrasses de Régis Boucabeille
Mas Baux 2016 Côtes Catalanes Le Baux Blond
Maison Albera 2016 Côtes Catalanes Vermentino
Château de L'Ou 2015 Côtes Catalanes Infiniment blanc
Château Planères 2014 Côtes du Roussillon La Romanie blanc

North

Domaine Boudau 2017 Côtes du Roussillon Henri Boudau blanc
Domaine Sainte-Estelle (Serre Romani) 2017 Côtes du Roussillon blanc
Château de Jau 2017 Côtes du Roussillon blanc
Clos des Vins d'Amour 2017 Côtes du Roussillon Idylle
Domaine La Toupie 2017 Côtes du Roussillon Fine Fleur
Ninet de Pena 2017 Côtes Catalanes Muscat sec
Thunevin-Calvet 2017 Côtes Catalanes Constance blanc
Les Vignerons de Tautavel et Vingrau 2016 Côtes Catalanes Le Cirque
Domaine Mas Crémat 2016 Côtes du Roussillon La Yose
Domaine Cazes 2016 Côtes Catalanes Canon du Maréchal blanc
Domaine Singla 2016 Côtes Catalanes La Coste
Château Caladroy 2016 Côtes Catalanes Passion blanc
Mas Devèze 2016 Côtes Catalanes Macabeu
Domaine Gayda 2016 Pays d'Oc En Passant blanc (it's 70% Macabeu sourced from the Roussillon with 30% Viognier from Minervois made by a Languedoc-based winery, so why not 'let it in').
Domaine des Schistes 2015 Côtes du Roussillon Jasse d'n Bielh
Domaine de Besombes 2015 Côtes du Roussillon Léonie 1868
Domaine Piquemal 2015 Côtes du Roussillon Les Terres Grillées
Domaine Le Roc des Anges 2015 Côtes Catalanes Iglesia Vella
Domaine Pouderoux 2015 Roc de Plane
Mas Castello-Cachau Dubournais 2015 Côtes du Roussillon blanc
Dom Brial 2015 Côtes du Roussillon Mirade blanc Sélection Parcellaire
M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila Haut 2015 Côtes du Roussillon blanc
Mas Janeil 2015 Côtes du Roussillon blanc
Domaine des Chenes 2014 Côtes Catalanes Les Olivettes
Domaine de l'Agly 2014 Côtes Catalanes Les Neiges d'Agly
Domaine Val de Ray 2014 Côtes du Roussillon Des Gouttes d'Or