In the eastern Pyrenees, Roussillon is a small French region that has been shaped as much by the culture of Spanish Catalonia as by that of France. It is France’s southernmost province, and the famous mountain range is very much in evidence here, cresting above the region and plunging into the Mediterranean at the town of Banyuls. Grape vines grow along on the coast, as well as inland.
Here, a different type of wine, Rancios dry, is made from Grenache or Maccabeu grapes (the same used in the production of the sweet wines Banyuls, Maury and Rivesaltes). Dry and aged in open barrels to encourage oxidation, it is a far cry from most modern French wines. Rancios is a testimony of Roussillon’s winemaking history: it was the wine of Banyuls before the laws changed regarding alcohol in naturally sweet wines (those classified VDN in the French system). This change in laws allowed sweet wines to be made with the addition of sugar, and therefore alcohol (to stop the wine’s fermentation), making an irrevocable change in their traditional flavors.
Rancios is dry, is still produced by allowing all of its sugars to turn into alcohol. The name Rancios refers to the wine’s aging in an environment that favors oxidation: in the open air and in open barrels.
Rancios does not pair easily with food, and consumers—apart from Catalonians and the locals in Roussillon—are not used to its flavors. The few that appreciate its unique flavor drink it as an aperitif, to accompany tapas or salted anchovies. But a Dry Rancios wine can easily substitute for Cognac or Armagnac at the close of a meal, and it heightens the enjoyment of a cigar. The flavor of the wine includes notes of toasted nuts, vanilla, licorice, and walnuts— all characteristics of the long aging in open barrels.
Production of this wine is minimal (15,000 liters annually), and it is almost impossible to find in retail outlets. Actually, many wines of this type are excluded from commerce as laws prevent them from being labelled as wine because of their high alcohol content.
The Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity has created a Presidium project to bring attention to this wine and to educate consumers interested in oxidized wines – especially in regions where this unusual flavor is appreciated as part of the gastronomic heritage. In the long term, the Presidium would like to work to overcome some of the legislative challenges blocking the commercialization of Roussillon Dry Rancio Wine.
Find out more about the Slow Food Foundation Presidia projects.