The Roussillon

Returning to France from our short stop in Spain we decided to leave the autoroute and use the slower but more scenic N9. Just a short distance west of Perpignan is the ruggedly beautiful wine region of the Roussillon, home to warm, spicy, gutsy reds and the sweet Muscat de Rivesaltes. As we drove through the pleasant wine-dominated town of Cases de Pena we saw plenty of Caves advertising 'degustations'. With just limited "wine time" available, I chose to visit the art-loving Chateau de Jau, one of the few producers from this region I have come across in the UK (Oddbins stock some of their wines). This turned out to be a lengthy but well signposted drive from the centre of town.

Not just a winery, Chateau de Jau (right) also has a modern art gallery and upmarket bistro. As was becoming the pattern in our visits to French wine properties, we couldn't see anything resembling a tasting room, so after a few minutes of embarrassed wandering around, we asked the restaurant waiter whether we could taste the wines. He beckoned us to a couch at the side of the shaded outdoor dining area and gave us a list of wines, with prices. Asking to try a couple, he bought two freshly opened bottles to the table. We weren't clear whether we had just purchased these or whether this really was a tasting! The Viognier, Clos de Paulliles 1997 at 48 ff was undistinctive: a fresh dry white with no real varietal character. In contrast, the Cotes du Roussillon Village 1996, at 38 ff, was an attractive herby and earthy red wine that was ripe with a long finish. I bought a few of this, and we left. We'd have felt uneasy about trying any more if it meant the proprieteur had to open fresh bottles each tim. (On returning home I tried a bottle of the 1997 Muscat de Rivesaltes, which was an attractive, well balanced desert wine but a little pricey at 8.99.)

Overall, this is a region I'd like to visit again. There's a great combination of sunshine, wine and culture, with a load of ruined castles to boot! It is also cheap to stay here, especially if, like us, you choose to camp.

On to Provence...