Sweet wines that must be tried
Sweet wines – The wines of Roussillon are a legacy of ancient Greek merchants and sailors from Corinth that introduce to their colonies and trade stations in the Catalan countryside vine material from the Eastern Mediterranean to create the first vineyards.
Varieties such as Moscato d’Alessandria, Muscat à Petits Grains and Malvasia were later joined by Grenache, Carignan, and Macabeo from the Kingdom of Aragon (Spain), and Cinsault, Syrah, Marsanne, and Vermentino to create a flourishing wine production now exported around the world.
In my latest press trip to the region, I was enthralled by the mellow, aromatic sweet wines I tasted. Like i wrote before in these pages, there were numerous nice dry reds and whites in my trip, but the highlights belong to the sweet, some of them fortified wines (vins doux) that many Roussillon vineyards produce.In a series of three articles, I will do an overview of the sweet wines of Roussillon. For this column, we will discuss the Rivesaltes and Muscat de Rivesaltes
Banyuls, Banyuls Grand Cru, Maury, Rivesaltes, Muscat de Rivesaltes. Those fortified wines appellations are now famous beyond borders! . Vins Doux Naturels are made from either the Muscat or the Grenache grape variety. Red or white, aged in stainless steel tanks or in oak barrels, they amazed me with their sweet concentration and aromatic elegance.
Vin doux naturel is a wine style that has a natural level of sweetness. They are crafted by light fortification with a spirit being added to the wine before the end of the fermentation process, usually consisting of a neutral spirit. This process is known in french as mutage. This type of wine also contains residual grape sugars.
Arnaud de Ville-Neuve, a doctor of medicine at the University of Montpellier, developed this method in the late 13th century, and this method of mutage can be used to make Both red and white wines. The Languedoc-Roussillon area is famous for the production of top-notch vin doux naturel, as the dry and windy climate helps to concentrate the sweetness in the grapes. Most wines of this type are aged in old oak barrels and exposed to the sun to concentrate flavors.
An important appellation in Roussillon producing sweet wines is Muscat de Rivesaltes. From an economic standpoint, this appellation takes 64% of the sweet wine production in Roussillon. They are made with the varieties muscat petits grains and muscat of Alexandria. When young these wines offers exotic and tropical fruit aromas. As they get older they develop notes of honey and confit apricots.They marry well Asian cuisines and Tapas.
Then there is Rivesaltes. These are sweet wines in a myriad of styles with the emphasis on oxidation aging. Amber Rivesaltes is required to age a minimum of 30 months, and made exclusively with white varieties. These are wines that bring to mind aromas of confit citrus fruit, dry fruits and soft spices. In contrast, Tuilé Rivesaltes is also aged a minimum of 30 months, but there is more leeway in the grapes permitted: Both red and white.. These are more intense wines with notes of cocoa, coffee, tobacco and fruits in conserve. There is Hors d’age which is a Tuile with 5 years minimum aging. Finally, there is Rancio which is Amber Rivesaltes or Tuile with a further aging in an oxidative environment.
Dom Brial, the biggest wine cooperative of Rousillon that I visited during my press trip, crafts exemplary bottlings of Muscat Rivesaltes and Rivesaltes. In fact, they were one of the first producers of Muscat de Rivesaltes In a visit and tasting lead by Guillaume Gangloff, its commercial director, I had the opportunity to taste some old Rivesaltes as fars back as 1959, which quite frankly was a eye-opening and enriching experience.
A magnificent and rare wine, the 1959 was a memorable treasure. A blend of Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc and Macabeo, it was impressive with complex notes of dry apricots and coconut . On the mouth, it was very round and with a perplexing concentration. A magnificent acidity despite more than 50 years of age with deep notes of old wood and spices. Very generous with a finale that recalls a great Spanish brandy.
I also had a chance as well to taste the 1979 and 1999. Equally exceptional the 1979 is a cross between a sherry palo cortado and a cognac. Perplexing aromas of banana cake, smoke and salted caramel. On the mouth, just exquisite with a fine balance and a sultry mouthfeel. Finally, the 1999, charms you with its noble notes of cacao and confit citric fruits, the type that you find in panettone.
Another worthy producer of the Rivesaltes style is Domaine de Nidoleres. Located in the Aspres in front of the Albères, at the Pyrenean foot hills, they have been making wine in Rousillon for more than eight generations.Their vineyard are located on clayey stony and sandy terraces in “Les Aspres“ with a low yield ,no more 35 hl/ha.. Their Rivesaltes Ambré 1997 displayed racy aromas of orange peel, tobacco, and middle eastern spices. Fine and very unctuous with a very fine persistence recalling fine notes of rancio and walnut notes. Perfect with a nice cigar at the end of a meal.
If you ever happen to visit Nidoleres, they offer a guesthouse where you can sample their other wines and try their fine Catalan cuisine. Their menus are based on locally grown produce and are season based. They make an excellent chicken catalan style and their crema catalana was a hit with the Rivesaltes 1997.
Wines of the week: In keeping with the spirit of the Rousillon:
Château de Jau Côtes du Roussillon Village 2013 ( Côtes du Roussillon)
SAQ # 00972661 $15.65
On the nose, ripe red berry fruit with lots of garrigue character and a hint of spice. On the mouth, smooth and generous with more spices in the middle palate. Meaty tannins and a medium to long finale. Enjoy it with grilled burgers and a side of french fries.
Domaine du Clos des Fées Les Sorcières 2016 ( Côtes du Roussillon)
SAQ # 11016016. $18.50
An energetic and vibrant wine. An intense and fruity nose bringing to mind, cassis, field berries and cherry. Round and supple with fine and silky tannins. Dense finale. Try it with a beef stew in tomato sauce and you will not be disappointed.
Dom Brial Muscat de Rivesaltes 2014 ( Muscat de Rivesaltes)
SAQ # 00892455. $19.05
A charming nose bringing to mind marzipan, orange and passion fruit with delicate nuances of honey and apricots. On the mouth, multilayered with a very complex taste. Seducing finale. Try it a fruit fondue in white chocolate.