Why doesn’t anyone west of Roussillon talk about Banyuls?
Probably because Madeira and Portugal’s port country is west.
Banyuls is a shamefully neglected French AOC and much overlooked fortified aperitif and dessert wine. It is made from old vines in the Catalan Pyrenees in France’s deep south Roussillon region bordering Spain’s Emporda wine region. It is a classy alternative to port.
The AOC production area is limited to four communes – Cote Vermeille, Banyuls, Cerbere, Collioure and Port-Vendres. Banyuls Grand Cru must be matured for thirty months.
For its Banyuls Traditionel, Les Clos de Paulilles, between Collioure and Banyuls, relies on glass demijohns. The wine is placed outdoors in the glass demijohns and exposed to sun and elements for two and a half years. The temperature variations would destroy most wines, but instead, “maderizing” encourages the development of Banyuls’ unique characteristics.
Invented by Arnaud de Villeneuve, the production process, known in France as “mutage,” is very similar to port. Alcoholic grape spirit is added to the must to stop fermentation while sugar levels are high, thus preserving the natural sweetness of the grape. The wines are then matured in oak barrels. The result is a “vin doux naturel” (naturally sweet wine) and a low alcohol version of port. Permitted grape varieties are Grenache Noir ( at least 50% and 75% for Grand Crus), Grenache Gris, Grenache blanc, and Carignan. Sometimes Malvoisie, Muscat, and Macabeu are used.
Well-known producers include Domaine de la Rectorie ( Banyuls Therese Reig and Banyuls Leon Parce), Domaine Vila-Magneres, Cave de l’Abbe Rouse. Domain La Tour Vieille, Domaine du Mas Blanc, and Elize Gaillard’s Madeloc.
Maison Cazes, in Rivesaltes, between the Pyrenees Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, was founded by Michel Cazes in 1895. In 1927, his son, Aimé, convinced his father to buy Maison Joffre, a farmhouse that once belonged to Maréchal Joseph Joffre, the French First World War hero, and native of the area. The first bottle of Cazes wine appeared in 1957. Cazes also owns Domaine Les Clos de Paulilles, in the Anse de Paulilles, between Banyuls and Collioure. Its vineyards stretch down to the sea, and there are accommodation and an excellent restaurant. Banyuls Rummage made from goblet pruned vines growing in schistose terraces with its cocoa and Kirsch notes is excellent with duck in fig sauces, red fruits, and chocolate as well as Roquefort cheese. It should be served at 12C, with an emergency supply of extra chocolate.