These exceptional, even inspiring, wines come from the remote region of Roussillon, a region not many people know very much about.

Weird, I know.

To start with, it’s a pretty unusual place, different. It’s on the eastern end of the Pyrenees, against the Mediterranean. The inhabitants speak an unusual version of the language, and consider themselves as much Spanish, or rather Catalan, as French – after all, Roussillon only became part of France in 1659.

This is the hottest part of the country and for centuries its dry wine was known for quantity not quality, though you could say the same about the rest of France as well. Now all that has changed — the dry reds are deep, dark and full of personality while the whites are mineral-infused and long-lived.

The volume has declined dramatically since 1960, but the quality has soared, and this is a very good thing.  “Today there’s no limit in terms of quality, discovery and style” said Eric Aracil, the region’s ambassador, at a tasting dinner in New York. And oh, what a fascinating range of super wines did he present.

The still whites are delightful and terrifically priced, while the reds have deep colors and rich flavors

But the wines that set Roussillon apart from the rest of the world, the wines that are attention-grabbing, unique and totally captivating are the Vins Doux Naturels – Fortified Sweet Wine, the official, though not entirely literal, translation. Almost unique in France, these are sweet, earthy, fruit-filled, nut-filled, succulent luxuries.

They are made by a similar method to port – natural spirit is added to the fermentation process half way through so stopping it prematurely resulting in high levels of sugar and alcohol. But these VDN’s have so much more personality than gentle, sweet Port: they’re packed with power and earthy complexity — ginger bread, dried fruit, candied almonds, Demerara sugar, honey, pepper, caramel, hazelnuts, candied pecans, hints of mushrooms and truffles, toffee and, above all, rancio, that indefinable but instantly recognizable characteristic one occasionally finds in very old Armagnac, Cognac and Scotch.

Here is a selection of the dry whites, reds, one rosé, and the remarkable VDN’s

Vin Doux Naturel, Ambre Hors d’Age 6 Years, Vignobles Constance et Terrassous

100% White Grenache, 16% alcohol, RS 100 g/L

Packed with an intensity of quince, hazelnuts, toasted almonds and barrels of honey. A fortified wine that will work equally well with a couple of ice cubes as an aperitif as with dessert, perhaps baklava. Ah, yes, a super combination at a super-bargain price.

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Rivesaltes Vin Doux Naturel, Terrassous 1974

Alcohol 15.5%, RS 115 g/L,

Grenache Blanc 50%, Grenache Gris 50%, ,

A totally seductive, ancient, mesmerizing nectar of wine packed with rancio, marron glacé, even prunes. Drink with blue cheese, chocolate cake and, of course, foie gras. Fresh figs won’t be bad either.

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