The Languedoc-Roussillon is the largest wine region not only in France but in the world, accounting for about one-third of the country’s total wine production. Traditionally, this has not been good news — the region has long been associated with bulk wine. But today the area is gaining recognition as a producer of great value wines. It’s also becoming known as a hub of modern winemaking smack in the middle of the Old World. A number of producers from other parts of France and beyond have been relocating to the area, capitalizing on its gorgeous climate, varied terroir and amazing prices on land and property. These three assets can also make for very drinkable wine.
Most of us know the Languedoc-Roussillon region as just that: the two get lumped in together. The southernmost French region’s best-known appellations include Corbières, Minervois and St. Chinian. But these are all on the Languedoc side. Wineries in Roussillon are now making a push to raise their own profile. And with good reason. Bordered by the Corbières mountains, the Mediterranean and northern Spain, the Roussillon benefits from mild weather and a good deal of sun. Diverse soil profiles include stony clay soils, limestone, black schist, granite, as well as high and steep terraces that can only be worked by hand. Grapes are borrowed from the nearby south-west and Bordeaux, Provence and even Spain. And a strong Catalan influence – even the road signs are in both French and Catalan – makes for interesting food pairings.
Here are several Roussillon winemakers to look out for, and how to buy their bottles online if your local shop doesn't carry them.
- Domaine Vaquer
Located in the sub-region of Les Aspres, an arid, hilly region with clay soil covered in round pebbles that resemble those of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, this family winery is run by its fifth generation. The wines here are fresh and lively, especially the Côtes du Roussillon Esquisse 2012, an equal-parts blend of Roussanne, Maccabeu and Grenache Blanc. Bursting with pretty aromas, it boasts a silky texture, fine minerality and bright acidity. Buy it at Wine House for $18.
- Domaine Laguerre
When Eric Laguerre took over his family’s estate, he decided to reduce yields and trade in the chemical fertilizers and pesticides that had long been used on the vines for organic compost. The result has been expressive, elegant wines, such as the Côtes du Roussillon Le Ciste Blanc 2011, a blend of Marsanne, Roussanne, Vermentino, Grenache Blanc and Maccabeu. Floral and citrus notes give way to a pleasing minerality, surely influenced by the vineyards’ sandy granite soils and high altitude. Buy it at Chambers Street Wines for $17.
- Domaine St. Sébastien
This winery and restaurant is located in the seaside town of Banyuls-Sur-Mer, once known for attracting artists like Picasso and Matisse. The restaurant serves simple, traditional dishes in a sleek café setting, including tapas like the local sausage and Catalan-style snails, and heartier dishes like Boules de Picolat, beef and sausage meatballs usually served with white beans. The latter is a good match for the Inspiration Marine 2008, a blend of mostly Mourvèdre and a little Grenache. Deep ruby in color, it’s full of ripe forest fruit flavors, finishing with a hint of spice. Buy it through the online wine club Quigley Fine Wines.
- Domaine de l’Edre
Down a narrow road in the tiny village of Vingrau (population: 530), a wooden door opens onto what looks like a garage, where horses were once kept. Pascal Dieunidou is a true garagiste; he still works a day job in transportation. He started producing wine in 2002 from grapes his father planted the year of his birth. The Carrément Rouge 2011 is a juicy red blend of Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Mourvèdre made naturally and in super small batches. The wine is savory and richly earthy, yet vibrant. It’s mostly found on select restaurant wine lists for around $40.
- Cave L’Etoile
Roussillon harbors another secret: it’s responsible for some 80% of the world’s fortified wine production. The granddaddy of the region’s wine cooperatives is this nearly 100-year-old operation in Banyuls-Sur-Mer. The place is cobwebbed and creaky, with giant 120-year-old wine casks. Most remarkable is the open air solera-style system on the roof. Here wines in large glass jugs are aged for years and allowed to gently oxidize. The Grand Cru Cuvée Réservée 1988 is full of figgy dried fruit flavors, nuts and a whiff of chocolate. Buy it at K&L Wine Merchants for $34.
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