Collioure is a small seaside town near the border with Spain, about 1.5 hours’ drive away. It is in the Roussillon region which for centuries was part of the ancient kingdom of Aragon, and still exhibits a strong Catalonian influence.
You will find a beautiful bay village with narrow streets sloping steeply down to the lovely little beach. Its amazing light and vibrant colours have long attracted artists like Picasso, Dufy, Derain and Matisse, who made it the centre of the Fauvist movement, and it is still full of artists today.
The vineyards are laid out in lines of terraces on steep rocky slopes in the foothills of the Pyrenees, intersected with drainage canals to avoid soil erosion. The main grape variety is Grenache, in several forms, with a little Carignan and Cinsault. The area is famous for a vin doux naturel called Banyuls, a wine created by the same method as St Jean de Minervois: using grape spirit to stop the fermentation before all of the sugar in the grape juice has turned to alcohol, leaving a naturally sweet wine. Banyuls is sold in several versions from fresh fruity ruby-red wines, to oxidised rancio styles with aromas of dried fruits and roasted nuts. It is a great partner for cheese, foie gras and chocolate.
Collioure winemakers also produce high quality dry red wines that were originally only for their own cellars, but are now gaining enthusiastic fans further afield. They are powerful, sturdy, concentrated wines, good for laying down, that evoke the sun-roasted slopes where the grapes are grown, and are one of my favourite wine experiences. I particularly recommend La Tour Vieille and Domaine La Rectorie.
The village itself makes for a great day out, and is ample reward for the longer drive. It is famous not just for wine and art, but also for anchovies both preserved in oil or salted. They are great marinated and served with a squeeze of lemon, a dish of almonds and a glass of Picpoul. Leave time also for the Chateau Royal, which was the summer palace of the Queens of Aragon, and the Hotel les Templiers which famously accepts sketches and paintings in lieu of payment.