Banyuls and Banyuls Grand Cru, are the appellations for France’s finest and certainly most complex vins doux naturels, made from vertiginous terraced vineyards above the Mediterranean at the southern limit of roussillon, and indeed mainland France. The dry but powerful mostly red wine produced in the same vineyards is entitled to the appellation collioure, Banyuls-sur-Mer and Collioure being two of the four dramatic seaside communes included in these two appellations.
Grenache Noir must dominate the blend, constituting at least 50% of a Banyuls and 75% Banyuls Grand Cru (which latter appellation is ignored by individual producers of the calibre of Dr Parcé of Domaine du Mas Blanc, who could be said to have re-energized the appellation in the mid 20th century). The grapes yield poorly and are often part shrivelled before being picked in early October. Alcohol is added while the must is still on the skins so that a wide range of flavour compounds are absorbed into the young wine, which, after perhaps five weeks’ further maceration, is then subjected to one of a wide range of élevage techniques. For much of the last century a portion of Banyuls would be kept in glass bonbonnes, sometimes outside, before being transferred to large old wood. This oxidative style gave way from the 1970s or so to a fruitier, earlier-maturing style. The occasional reminder of the very austere rancio style of Banyuls, sometimes matured in a solera system that was made long ago can occasionally be found in the dustiest cellars. Some Banyuls is made to preserve the heady aromas of macerated red fruits while other Banyuls demonstrate the extraordinary levels of concentration that can be achieved by Grenache, heat, and time. Such wines are some of the few that go well with chocolate, although many a French chef has created savoury dishes, often with a hint of sweetness, to be served expressly with a particular Banyuls. This is the only French wine appellation, once routinely prescribed medicinally, able to offer 20- and 30-year-old wines as a serious proportion of its total production. See also rivesaltes and maury.