France, Roussillon
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The Beauty of Vins Doux Naturels

The Roussillon region of Southern France is home to five AOPS that produce fortified vins doux naturel wines.

As the Tet River makes its way east towards the Mediterranean Sea, it bisects the combined AOPs of Rivesaltes and Muscat de Rivesaltes. The northern half of this AOP is divided once again by the Agly River and here, on Roussillon’s northern-most border, is the AOP Maury. A third river, the Tech, flows through the southern half of the AOP where perched above the Mediterranean Sea on region’s southern border with Spain is the AOP Collioure.

While they are diverse in size and geography, all of the wines produced here require 21.5% abv after fortification and rely largely on the same family of grape varieties.

Rivesaltes and Muscat de Rivesaltes combined comprise the largest of the AOPs (6,180 hectares). Rivesaltes is primarily made of Grenache with Macabeu as secondary grape in the blend. It produces four vin doux naturel wine styles from rosé, and red to tuilé and ambré. Rivesaltes requires a minimum of 100 g/l natural residual sugar although they can be far sweeter.

The vin doux naturel wines of Mas Amiel.

A combination of Grenache Noir, Blanc and Gris, Macabeu and Malvoisie du Roussillon (locally known as Tourbat) are used for the Rivesaltes where levels of residual sugar can and do vary. The white, rosé and red fortified wines rely on shorter periods of reductive aging while tuilé and ambré wines are defined by longer periods of oxidative aging.

In AOP Maury we find the same primary white and red grape varieties with the added bonus of Carignan Noir, Cinsault and Syrah.  The region’s 300 hectares produce white, ambré, multiple red styles and tuilé wines. As is typical, the white and red wines are aged reductively and ambré and tuilé wine styles rely on exposure to oxygen during aging. As in Rivesaltes, levels of residual sugar in the finished wines are determined by the producers.

While AOP Banyuls (938 hectares) grows the same varieties as Maury, the use of reductive, reducing and oxidative aging regimes produces a broader range of wine styles. White Banyuls ages with limited exposure to oxygen, rosé, rimage and rimage mise tardive red wines are aged reductively and the tawny “traditionnels” enjoy a fully-aerobic aging regime. 

As with Maury and Rivesaltes, the finished levels of residual sugar in the wines will vary. Banyuls is further distinguished by a Grand Cru designation for tuilé wines that can be designated dry, sec or brut if natural residual sugars are 54 g/l or greater.

EU quality policy protects the names of these specific wines to promote their unique characteristics, keep them linked to their geographical origin as well as preserving traditional know-how. Wines with a ‘geographical indication’ (GI) must have a specific link to the place where they are made.

The GI recognition enables consumers to trust and distinguish European Quality Wines while also helping producers to market their products better. According to the EU definition, PDO products are “produced, processed and prepared in a given geographical area, using recognized know-how”. Their quality and properties are significantly or exclusively determined by their environment, in both natural and human factors. The category is also referred to as Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) in French.

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