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08 July 2022

Roussillon - the north: 27 reds to knock your socks off (part 1).

This spicy variety of reds features some of my top picks from a Wines of Roussillon tasting in London (in June), and other recommendations from recent wine shopping. These include reds from the 2019, 2020 and 2021 vintages, as well as a few older, more mature and sometimes special bottlings. They were made by different-sized wine producers across the northern Roussillon - Les Pyrénées Orientales is the département name - or 'French Catalonia' as I coined in the subtitle of my book on the region.
Naturally, you can read more about this by buying a copy HERE. Any updates, new wines or fresh stories will probably end up in a revised edition at some point in the future. I've included a brief blurb about each wine-grower or co-op winery to set the scene: for more detailed background info on these people, their wines and where they make them; well, guess what, knock yourself out and buy my book! Available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or direct from the author.
A few thoughts on those vintages may be helpful. 2019 seems big, bold and meaty but sometimes rather extracted and firm although with plenty of depth. 2020 is generally excellent showing lovely balance of ripe fruit, textured (chalky) tannins and concentration. 2021 seems a little lighter, fresher and more refined with lots of pure up-front fruit. Older vintages included 2018, quite fine concentrated and structured while balanced that needed some time; and 2015 offered consistent quality and depth, is maturing well and some of them drinking nicely now. Prices are actual or projected UK retail prices in £ or the currency of the market where imported, and/or € cellar door.

Northern Roussillon

Dom Brial, Baixas: The hundred year-old co-op cellar has 200 members growing 2000 hectares of diverse vineyards, many of them long established and in prime sites, around the village of Baixas. They've made strides in modernising the range of dry reds, whites and rosés in the last 15 years, while retaining the solid tradition (and large stocks) of Vins Doux Naturels (VDN, fortified red and white wines) including some extraordinary immortal bottlings (look out for my notes on 1969 Rivesaltes Ambré).
Les Petits Pins
2020 Côtes du Roussillon Villages (14.5% abv): 40% Grenache, 25% each Syrah and Mourvèdre, 10% Carignan; no oak. Quite concentrated with firm-ish structure, but plenty of delicious fruit and well-balanced tannins. €9.50
Echinops 2021 Côtes Catalanes IGP (13% abv): 50-50 Grenache and Syrah, no oak. Their first certified organic label. Soft and gluggable while loaded with dark spicy berry and cherry fruits, very nice red. €8.50

Domaine of the Bee, Maury: This diminutive collection of old vines (totalling four hectares) dotted around the Maury area has been owned and run by Justin Howard-Sneyd MW, wife Amanda and Philippe Sacerdot since that impulsive beginning in 2003/4. Their wines are made and aged at a couple of Lafage's properties near Maury and Perpignan, who they also buy grapes from for their other labels.
2020 Côtes Catalanes (14% abv): Carignan from their 80+ year-old La Roque vineyard (1 ha), whole berry fermentation part in tank part in barrel and ageing in used 500L casks (just two). Hints of cedary coconut oak, balsamic notes too with underlying aromatic berry fruit, rounded soft-ish tannins, quite subtle and elegant considering the alcohol showing weight yet freshness; the oak was a little dominant to start but should probably integrate into the attractive lingering texture and flavours. Second day, tasted more savoury with tangier berry fruit and a little less obvious oak, offering lovely silky texture (good Carignan sometimes resembles Pinot Noir in structure) and developing more balsamic and wild fruit nuances. £18/£22.50
Maury Sec 2020 (15% abv): 60% Grenache and 40% Carignan ('our best barrels'), some of the latter fermented in tank and the rest with the Grenache in barrel, then matured in 500L and 225L casks (25% new) for 16 months. Toasty spicy cedar and coconut nose layered with dark peppery savoury fruit, ripe and meaty texture with the oak more subdued due to its concentrated and powerful palate, but that 15% alcohol blends in well into a dense damson and blackberry/cherry backdrop with dark chocolate coating, a touch of firmness adding structure although lovely chalky tannins. Actually drinking quite well but it'll keep for sure: delicious. £20/£25

Domaine Singla, St-Laurent-de-la-Salanque: Laurent de Besombes Singla launched his own estate label in 2001, although the overall property has some very old family vineyards with hundreds of years' history. He's gradually expanded by taking on plots here and there - many of his vines are located in the Opoul and Salses area in the northeast of the Roussillon, where he is having a new cellar constructed - with a few more parcels acquired recently near Espira bringing the total to 80 hectares, much of which is certified organic.
Passe Temps 2020 Côtes du Roussillon Villages (15% abv): 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah sourced from the main block of the estate (Mas Passe Temps), aged for a year in mostly used casks. Lovely ripe Grenache nose giving off spicy kirsch and black cherry, good depth of fruit too with a little grip on the finish, powerful and concentrated, very tasty red. €15
Mataro 2020 Côtes du Roussillon Villages (15% abv): 70% Mourvèdre and 30% Syrah, malolactic fermentation and ageing in small barrels (mix of new and used) for one year. Subtle oak treatment, chunky and meaty mouth-feel with ripe black olive and berries, concentrated with once again attractive chalky tannins. Gets my vote. €19.50
Pedre 2019 Côtes du Roussillon (15% abv): Mostly hand-selected Syrah with Grenache (La Pedre is the name of this block lying on a stony hillside), extended maceration, 18 months in oak. Deep black colour almost, savoury and smoky nose, very concentrated palate with firm yet well-textured tannins, a little closed up but it's built to age. €35

Domaine de l'Edre, Vingrau: Jacques Castany and more recent partner Pierre Laporte are celebrating 20 years of the L'Edre label, although the 10 hectares of vines are mostly older than that. These vineyards lie on chalky soils at slight altitude dramatically pressed up against the Corbières hills just outside Vingrau, where their small winery is located. I've been following the wines for almost as long and am pleased to say that these two were among my favourites at the tasting.
Carrément Rouge 2020 Côtes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel (15% abv): Syrah (about 50%), Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan; no oak. Wild minty Syrah-led nose, concentrated black cherry/berry and wild herb flavours, delicious fruit and nice chalky tannins to finish; love it. €16
L'Edre Prestige 2018 Côtes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel (15% abv): Syrah (about 60%), Grenache, Carignan, Mourvèdre; cask fermented and aged (used barrels). Maturing meaty aromas, dense and firm mouth-feel while concentrated and lingering; serious wine. €29

Vineyards between Tautavel and Vingrau (copyright CIVR).

Les Terrasses de l'Arago, Vingrau: Neighbour of L'Edre, this relatively recent operation, or profile-wise at least with a more contemporary range spearheaded by Thomas Mangin in conjunction with, and sourced from, his grandfather Roger's established vineyards, the first of which were bought in the 1980s. These now total 37 hectares lying on terraces on the west side of the Vingrau valley near the Caune de l'Arago grotto. Related to the Champagne Mangin people.
Elecció Rouge 2019 Côtes du Roussillon (14.5% abv): Syrah and Grenache. Maturing nose with minty cherry notes, quite firm palate but with rounded tannins and good depth of fruit. €11.90 France, Singapore $44-52, Vietnam 557,000₫, Systembolaget Sweden.
Les Espassoles Carignan 2020 Côtes Catalanes (13% abv): Appealing juicy fruity style with lively blueberry flavours, finishing with a light bitter twist. €8.90

Arnaud de Villeneuve, Rivesaltes: This huge co-operative boasts 1600 hectares of members' vineyards to draw from and has four different wine cellar sites (mostly) in the northern Roussillon; the main winery is a difficult-to-miss elongated stone building located on the busy road between Rivesaltes and Salses-le-Château. While remaining guardians of traditional style VDNs, the co-op has moved with the times producing various good quality more 'modern' wines too.
RD 900 Réserve 2020 Côtes du Roussillon Villages (14.5% abv): 70% Syrah and 30% Grenache (selected from two sites), no oak. Named after the Route Départementale 900 referenced above (road trip picnic red?), this is pretty seductive with its concentrated powerful styling laced with rich black cherry fruit and well-textured tannins (definitely a 2020 trait). Great value: €7.50.
2019 Côtes du Roussillon Villages (13.5% abv): 65% Syrah and 35% Grenache (block selection from sites around the village of Opoul at 200 metres altitude), aged for eight months half in clay pots (the retro-container of the future IMHO) and half in 500 litre casks. Developing meaty nose, tautly structured but with fine tannins, fairly concentrated with subtle underlying oak notes and texture; very good. €13.33

Domaine Cazes, Rivesaltes: One of the most famous names in the Roussillon, nowadays the Cazes empire includes several impressive properties dotted across the region from north to south. The long-standing cellar stronghold in Rivesaltes is also home to a recommended restaurant. Their enormous (200 ha) estate in the northeast has been farmed organically and biodynamically for 25 years, they say.
John Wine
2021 'No Sulfites' Côtes du Roussillon (13.5% abv): 40% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 30% Carignan; no oak and 'reductive' winemaking techniques. Tasty, very fruity and fresh red with some substance too; delicious now although you could keep it for a while. €12; £16 The Fine Wine Company Edinburgh, GP Brands.
Ego 2020 Côtes du Roussillon Villages (14% abv): 50% Grenache, 30% Mourvèdre and 20% Syrah. Less aromatic yet more savoury and complex, grippier denser palate with a hint of oak, nicely textured though with concentrated long finish; very good, needs a few months to years to develop. €13; £18.55-19.95 The Fine Wine Company, Q Wines Wells, Brigitte Bordeaux Wine Nottingham.
Alter 2020 Côtes du Roussillon Villages (14% abv): 60% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre, 20% Syrah: Herby minty nose with spicy dark fruit flavours, chunky and concentrated mouth-feel with attractive silky tannins; like its style. My note makes me wonder if the tech info was right: 60% Syrah rather? The 2015 was (€15 cellar door; 2020 not released yet).

Mas de la Devèze, Tautavel: Nathalie and Simon Hugues took over this property 10 years ago and built it back up gradually to 30 hectares of old vines spread across the Maury and Tautavel appellations; they also planted some new blocks in 2020. They've always shown very promising wines, although on this occasion I wasn't so charmed by a couple of their 2018 and 2019 reds.
Maury Sec
2019 (15% abv): 60% Grenache, 20% each Syrah and Mourvèdre; aged for a year in demi-muids and 300 or 400 litre casks, the Syrah usually in new oak. Meaty and grippy red although with good integration of oak and tannins, lovely dark and spicy fruit flavours underneath. Serious wine. €16.50.

Res Fortes, Maury: Originally from the Netherlands, Moritz Bak spent many summers as a child in southern France. He obtained a winemaking qualification at Plumpton College in England and worked at wineries in Bordeaux, Germany, California, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand before setting up Res Fortes Wines in 2014. The cellar is based in Saint Paul de Fenouillet and vineyards lie around there and Maury. Direct sales in the UK or EU; UK also e.g. Thorne Wines, Plonk Wine Co.; US: Wine Chateau.
Res Fortes Red 2019 Côtes du Roussillon (14.5% abv): from 40-60 year-old bush vines, 60% Grenache half of it aged in large barrels, 30% Mourvèdre, 10% Syrah. Herby and spicy nose with rustic maturing tones, grippy and concentrated but well-made with some depth too. £18/€16

Traveller 2019 Côtes du Roussillon (14.5% abv): Mostly selected Syrah, no oak. Lovely minty spicy aromas with black cherry and berry fruit, dense and chunky mouth-feel while maturing at the same time. Tasty red even if somewhat dear: £36/€36.

Terres Fidèles, Perpignan: This south-of-France venture and resulting labels were created by importer Alliance Wines, who have been working with partners on the ground in the Roussillon including Emmanuel Cazes and Julien Montagne to source wild and interesting old vine parcels and grapes to produce small-volume site-influenced wines, so far a couple of impressive reds from the Maury area. Fergal Tynan MW, who has been behind the project in recent years, said they were also looking at vineyards in nearby Caramany and Lesquerde, as well as further afield in Tarerach and Collioure.
Soleilla 2020 Maury Sec (15.5% abv): This block (pic. top left from terresfideles.com) lies within the magnificent Coume del Rey lieu-dit (named site). 80% Grenache (old vines) and 20% Carignan ('century old'). Rich fruity dark and dense, chunky and very concentrated palate with lovely chalky tannins, relatively fresh on the finish despite the alcohol level. Delicious and serious. The '20 has the edge on the debut '19. £25
Organic Côtes du Roussillon Villages 2019 (15% abv): Grenache and Carignan from the Maury area. Meaty savoury nose, fairly mature with plenty of dark spicy fruit and a little grip. Very nice, surprisingly 'elegant' too. £15

Le Soula, Prugnanes: Established by Gérard Gauby, Mark Walford and Roy Richards in a lost elevated corner of the northwest Roussillon (known as Fenouillèdes, 350 to 600 metres altitude), their first vintage was 2001 and the estate comes to 22 hectares of biodynamic vineyards in Saint Martin de Fenouillet, Saint Arnac, Felluns and Le Vivier. Mark oversees the business nowadays with his international and local team headed up by Wendy Wilson. Image from www.le-soula.com (yes it does snow up there).

Le Soula Rouge 2015 Côtes Catalanes (13% abv): 53% Carignan, 37% Syrah, 10% Grenache; whole bunch maceration-fermentation with wild yeasts; ageing in a mix of wood tuns (2000 and 3000 litres), 500-litre demi-muids and 228-litre barriques and stainless steel vats; no fining and light filtration. The 2014 Soula was elegant and mature although a bit soupy and rustic. The superior 2015 is fruitier with concentrated palate, fairly funky yet has real depth and length; tasty and wild, man (although slightly expensive). London importer: Thorman Hunt; about £30-£35 from merchants such as BBR, Tanners, Uncorked, Harrogate Fine Wine Company.

Domaine des Soulanes, Tautavel: Another favourite wine estate I've been following for over 15 years, Daniel and Cathy Lafitte have developed the property over the years to '18 parcels of vines over 17 hectares' in dramatically located hillside spots lying between Tautavel and Maury (certified organic). Cathy reported the latest in the vineyard is planting more Grenache Gris on wild scrubland at altitude. Consistently good wines available from: UK - Theatre of Wine London, Cambridge Wine Merchants; US importer: Weygandt-Metzler; Tokyo: Cépages Wines.

That's what I call a vineyard!

Patchwork 2021 Côtes Catalanes (13.5% abv): 80% Carignan, 20% Grenache. Intense lively red with crunchy and ripe fruit flavours, rich and fruity yet refreshing too; delicious. £13
Jean Pull 2021 Côtes du Roussillon Villages (14.5% abv): 50% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 20% Carignan. Enchanting ripe Grenache-led nose overlaid with spicy black berry and cherry, concentrated and fruity palate, nice supple tannins and freshness as well. Good stuff. £15-£16
Les Salines Sélection Parcellaire 2020 Maury Sec (15% abv): 80% Grenache, 20% Carignan. Concentrated taut mouth-feel but once again delivers lots of beautiful Grenache fruit checked by those 2020-vintage chalky tannins, long and surprisingly elegant considering the punchy alcohol. Excellent wine, will improve. £19

Domaine de Bila-Haut, Latour de France: Aka Michel Chapoutier Roussillon, which has been expanded over the years to 60 hectares of vines around Latour de France (where the winery is based) and Lesquerde in the north and Collioure in the south. My favourite two of their reds on tasting were the least expensive and most expensive ones; I found a couple of 2018 reds to be a little firm and extracted. UK importer Hatch Mansfield, which sells to many independent wine stores.
Bila-Haut Rouge
2020 Côtes du Roussillon Villages (14% abv): Grenache, Syrah and Carignan; no oak. Lovely Grenache fruit on the nose, quite elegant with subtle depth of spicy and dark fruits, very nice red. €8.30 cellar door, £12 UK.
Bila-Haut V.I.T 2019 Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France (15% abv): Block selection of Grenache (65%) and Syrah (35%) from higher altitude sites on granite soils, certified biodynamic; 16 months ageing in Burgundy barrels. Delicious dark Grenache fruit, ripe and savoury, very concentrated but with well-textured tannins. Serious wine even if expensive: €65, £40-£50 UK.

Next up: even more Roussillon reds to knock your socks off from the central and southern Roussillon; followed by whites, rosés and Vins Doux Naturels...
Unless stated, the images in this feature were downloaded from the producers' websites or taken by myself.

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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.