Appears in
Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

Roussillon, although first encountered by some outsiders as a suffix to languedoc, has a quite distinct identity, both cultural and geographical. Its inhabitants are Catalan rather than French or Occitan, with a history rich in Spanish influence, particularly between the 13th and 17th centuries, when it was ruled first from Mallorca and then from Aragón. They identify closely with the inhabitants of Spanish cataluña just across the Pyrenees and many speak Catalan. Quite unlike the flat coastal plains of the Languedoc, Roussillon’s topography can be guessed at by the fact that today it is effectively the département called Pyrénées-Orientales, the eastern section of the Pyrenees, a mountain range so high that much of it remains snow-covered throughout the summer. Vines and olives are two of the rare agricultural crops that can thrive in the tortured, arid valleys of the Agly, Têt, and Tech—although the lower, flatter land by the coast is today an important source of soft fruit. The climate is France’s sunniest, with an average of 325 days’ sunshine a year, frequent extremely strong winds accentuating the grape-drying process in summer. Wine styles and techniques as well as grape varieties have much in common with neighbouring Spain, as do the relatively low yields. Despite the prevailing temperatures, Roussillon’s cellars were some of France’s last to install efficient temperature control, and new oak arrived relatively recently, but the region has been making up for lost time and is now home to some of France’s most exciting reds and whites.