In the latest issue of Decanter, there is an interesting profile on Roussillon, a region in the very south of France contained on the southern side by the Pyrenees, on the northern side by the Corbières massif and to the East, the Mediterranean Sea. In the world of wine, as the article points out, Roussillon often gets lumped in with the Languedoc region, its northerly neighbour, but both actually have very different identities which should be understood and appreciated. The different climate, grape varieties and soil characteristics in Roussillon are now being highlighted and it has finally put this historically under-appreciated region on the map.
(Views of Roussillon, March 2019)
Decanter also touched on the region’s comparative affordability for young winemakers and this, coupled with the dry climate, has attracted those looking to make natural wine where grapes are being grown organically without the use of harmful herbicides, fungicides and pesticides and the addition of sulphur is kept to a minimum. I was lucky enough to visit some of these energetic and passionate people back in March 2019 so here are some of the stories behind a few of our current favourite wines from Roussillon.
Bastien Baillet and Celine Schuers make natural wine under the name La Bancale ('The Terrace' in Catalan) in the Fenouillèdes mountain range close to the Pyrenees. They studied winemaking in the Languedoc before settling in this part of Roussillon as this mountainous area provides some cooler conditions compared to surrounding areas meaning they can create wines with great freshness and acidity. The focus is on indigenous grape varieties and we particularly love what they are doing with their white grapes; Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris and Macabeo.
(In the Vineyards of La Bancale. L-R Bastien of La Bancale, Fernando of Otros Vinos and Kirsty of the amazing Weino BIB shop in Dalston. March 2019)
Macabeo (or Viura as it is known in Rioja) often has a reputation for creating quite neutral wines but it also has the ability to effectively reflect the type of soil it has been grown on and this really comes through with Chair Blanche, Marnes Noires
2019. The name means 'white flesh, black marlstone' (which is a calcium carbonate) and the resulting wine is full of mineral character coupled with real finesse. A beautifully delicate and precise natural wine that we have recently enjoyed with sea bass on the barbecue.
(A bottle of Chair Blanche Marnes Noires 2019 from La Bancale. Barbecue not far away. Highbury, June 2020)
La Voluta is the natural wine project of Jean Benoit Vivequain and Anna Rubio who now reside in the village of Cucugnan after meeting on the other side of the world in New Zealand where they were both learning about winemaking. They focus on old-vine Grenache Noir, Syrah and Carignan, all indigenous to the wild and rugged terrain between Cucugnan and Maury.
(In the Cucugnan area with La Voluta's canine companion. March 2019)
Using the Grenache grape, they have created something quite brilliant and unexpected. Loop
2019 is effectively an orange wine made from a direct press of red grapes which sounds bizarre and quite frankly, it is. The wine is off-dry which creates an almost sweet-and-sour vibe which might sound wrong but it's definitely right! It might just be me, but drinking this wine conjured up mental images of melting red apples! Perfect as an aperitif and very more-ish. Incredibly unique and special wine with only 600 bottles produced. As this is only their first vintage, we are really excited to see what comes next.
(A bottle of Loop 2018 by La Voluta. The label sums up the nature of this wine pretty well! Highbury Library, July 2020)
I haven't visited the Mataburro guys yet but they are high on the list! This is the project of natural winemakers Laurent Roger and Melissa Ingrand in Rivesaltes which isn't far from Perpignan. Again, they make wines with amazing freshness in spite of the warm Mediterranean climate. Mataburro means Donkey Killer which refers to a railway that runs through the vineyard. When it opened in 1910, a train sadly killed 2 donkeys on the first day.
(New vintages from Mataburro. Highbury Library, June 2020)
We have just received wines from their second vintage and they are tasting incredible. It's hard to pick a winner between Otium
2019 and Quartet
2019 but I think the latter just takes it (or maybe I'm just susceptible to litre bottles). It's a dream of a wine with just about everything going on. Floral and perfumed notes from Muscat, juicy red cherry aromas from the Merlot and a hint of spice and earthiness from the Grenache. Summer in a bottle, basically, and very limited.
As it appears foreign travel is off the cards for a while, what better way to take a virtual journey into Roussillon than through the its wine?
(Looking out from Château de Quéribus in the Pyrénées-Orientales with Kirsty and Fernando, March 2019)