As is the case with many European countries, modern France is composed of disparate regions that for centuries retained their independence and social and historic identity. Just as Bordeaux, for example, was once part of England –because of the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry II — so the southwest part of France, now called Roussillon, was ruled from Majorca and Aragon, and even now the population identifies itself more closely with the Catalan culture of Spain than with the dominant “French” culture. (Though bull-fighting is officially banned in France, the sport is allowing where it is considered an essential part of local tradition; usually bloodless for the animal as practiced here, bull-fighting can be found from Nimes and Arles west to the Spanish border and across to the Atlantic.) Winemaking has flourished in the sunny (the sunniest vineyard region in France), dry and windy eastern foothills of the Pyrenees mountains since ancient times, when the Greeks introduced vines and then the Romans began cultivating extensive vineyards. Côtes du Roussillon received AOC designation in 1977. A slightly more limited designation, Côtes du Roussillon-Villages, is theoretically superior, as in the model of Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages. The permitted grapes, for red wines, are the Rhone Valley varieties: syrah, grenache, mourvèdre and carignan, with the stipulation that syrah or mourvèdre (or a combination of the two) makes up at least 20 percent of the blend. The area is in the extreme southwest of France, where the coast finishes a great curve in a head-long run at the Spanish border; the Mediterranean is actually east of Roussillon. As you can see in the accompanying image (cavepartdesanges.com), the inland regions can be picturesque and forbidding.
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Chateau de Jau, built in 1792, lies smack in the middle of the Côtes du Roussillon-Villages region, on the river Agly. Owned now by the Daure family, which extensively rebuilt the vineyards, the property also produces the well-known Le Jaja de Jau brand. Winemaker is Estelle Daure. The blend for the Chateau de Jau Côtes du Roussillon-Villages 2008 is syrah, 45 percent; mourvèdre, 30 percent, carignan, 15 percent; and grenache, 10 percent, so the proportion of syrah and mourvèdre is much higher than is required by law. The wine receives no oak-aging, retaining an attractive sense of freshness and immediate appeal. The effect is pungently grapy, with full-blown scents of black currants and plums infused with lavender and rose petal, touches of dried spices and flowers and darker, spicier underpinnings. The plum aspect, with shadings of black and blue, intensifies in the mouth, with a richer, deeper aspect, while tannins are moderately grainy and chewy; the wine is supported by vibrant acidity and a hint of graphite-like minerality in the background. A really enjoyable pasta, pizza and burger wine — or to be French about it, try with a rabbit terrine, whole-grain mustard and crusty bread — to drink through 2012. Alcohol content is 13 percent. Very Good+. About $14, a Great Bargain.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y. A sample for review.
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Gregory Hecht and François Bannier founded their negociant house in 2002 to seek out appropriate vineyards and then “elevate” — the process of treating wine in a winery by a negociant is called elevage — the wine to produce authentic renditions of the wines of Roussillon. The H & B Côtes du Roussillon-Villages 2008 is composed of 55 percent grenache, 25 percent syrah, 15 percent mourvèdre and 5 percent carignan; the wine ages in a combination of old demi-muids of 600 liters, neutral concrete vats and 20 percent new oak. The first impression is of roses and violets woven with meaty and fleshy red and black currants that quickly develop a sense of being spiced and macerated. This wine is vividly lively, imbued with acidity of almost poignant vivacity and wrapped in granite-laced tannins that feel broad and generous on the palate; it’s deeply flavorful, earthy and minerally, bringing into the finish notes of smoke, briers and brambles. Charming, yes, but with real stuffing and character. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $28 in my neck o’ the woods; starts at about $20 and goes up nationally.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York. Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.
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