Wine-growing is the main wealth of Roussillon, which was already an important food-producing region. It was the Romans who occupied the territory who developed the culture even if it already existed before their arrival.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, one invasion followed another and it was not until the arrival of the monks that the vines that had been neglected were brought back into cultivation and developed on a large scale.
As early as the Carolingian period, the wines of Rivesaltes, created by the bishopric of Elne, and the wines of Banyuls, created by the Templars, appeared. Wine was highly prized in the Middle Ages for daily consumption, but also to revitalise the sick and the elderly.
In the 19th century, large farms were established in the plain, but the great wine crisis of 1907 put a stop to this expansion. Fortunately, this interlude put the region’s production back on track. By choosing quality over quantity, the Roussillon vines regained their colour and today enjoy an excellent reputation.
The distribution of the Roussillon wine area
The Roussillon wine area is built around the river Têt.
North-west of the Têt
The cliffs that dominate Maury to the south and north are made up of very pure limestone, still being quarried, as well as black schistose marl. It is the latter which gives the soil its black colour and their thinness leads the vines to take root more deeply.
It is on this part that the vines for the AOC Côtes du Roussillon Village Tautavel are grown. The AOP Maury Sec is cultivated around the village of Maury.
The AOC Côtes du Roussillon Villages Lesquerde stands out thanks to the granite and gneiss subsoil that surrounds the village of Lesquerde.
Further east, the AOC Côtes du Roussillon Villages Caramany area is located on a soil composed of Precambrian gneiss.
Finally, the schist subsoils between the grey and the brown found between the Agly and the Têt host the vines of the Roussillon Villages Latour de France appellation.
North-east of the Têt
The Rivesaltes region extends over a vast stony plain of alluvial origin to the north-east of the Têt. The AOC Muscat de Rivesaltes thrives on this soil, dominated by red clay, mixed with rolled pebbles.
South-east of the Têt
The soils to the south-east of the Têt are rather poor, formed by the erosion of the Albères and Canigou massifs. They contain large quantities of pebbles mixed with red or yellow sandy clay which are very suitable for vines. It is here that the grapes for the AOC Côtes du Roussillon les Aspres are grown.
The wine road
To cross the three main wine valleys of the department, the Conseil Général des Pyrénées Orientales has created three wine routes:
- The Pays de l’Agly wine route.
- The Aspres, Albères, Côte Vermeille wine route.
- The wine route of the lower Têt valley and the Roussillon plain.
The appellations and grape varieties of Roussillon
The Pyrénées-Orientales department has seven Appellations d’Origine Contrôlée:
- Côtes du Roussillon
- Côtes du Roussillon Villages
- Muscat de Rivesaltes
White and grey grape varieties
- White Grenache with aniseed flavours, smooth and long in the mouth.
- Grenache gris is powerful, fleshy and round.
- Macabeu or Maccabeo, light and delicate.
- Malvoisie du Roussillon of Catalan origin, powerful and fresh, which tends to become rarer.
- Muscat à petits grains, one of the Rivesaltes grape varieties, fresh with notes of citrus and spices.
- Muscat d’Alexandrie, very common in Roussillon, fine and powerful.
- Marsanne, traditionally associated with Roussanne which gives dry and ample wines.
- Roussanne with floral notes traditionally complements Grenache and Macabeu for white blends.
- Vermentino, a typical Corsican variety, light and fresh.
Red grape varieties
- Carignan noir structured with notes of red fruits.
- Grenache noir round and unctuous.
- Lladoner Pelut which resembles Grenache, fruity and round.
- Mourvèdre, full-bodied and colourful.
- Syrah at the origin of rosé wines or red wines, rich and complex.