Banyuls is a unique sweet “desert style” wine made in an eastern corner of France near the border with Spain. These wines are considered to be the country's finest and most complex vins doux naturels (naturally sweet). They produced from about 2450 acres (980ha) of terraced, sun-baked vineyards which look out over the western Mediterranean.
Banyuls wines come in a variety of shades – from golden-orange to pink and deep, dark ruby – depending on the winemaking techniques used in their production. All are made from at least 50% Grenache (Banyuls Grand Cru must be at least 75%), complemented by a variety of white and red grapes: Maccabeu, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Muscat d'Alexandrie and Tourbat (Sardinia's Torbato). The secondary varieties which can be used are Syrah, Cinsaut and Carignan, which are permitted to make up only 10% of the finished wine blend. Muscat Blanc a Petit Grains is also employed, although these are only used in very quantities. Red Banyuls is one of the world's very few sweet red wines. These, when young, have a deep ruby color, turning amber then mahogany brown with age. The bouquet of almost all Banyuls wine is reminiscent of prunes, sweet coffee and baked fruits.
The grapes used to make Banyuls are harvested in early fall when they have reached a naturally high level of sweetness. Whites and roses are fermented free from any seeds skins and pulp, while the reds are fermented as whole berries. With a long maceration period, which can last anywhere from three to six weeks, the high level of natural grape sugars are translated into a final alcohol level of up to 10%. Using mutage(adding pure grape spirit to stop the fermentation process) they are able to preserve the sweetness of the wine. Up to 10% pure alcohol may then be added to the wines to “fortify” them and bring them up to their target strength, which is usually between 15%/20%.. All Banyuls wines must be barrel aged for at least 12 months (30 months in the case of the Banyuls Grand Cru wines).
Banyuls is cultivated in terraces on the slopes of the Catalan Pyrenees in the Roussillon county of France, bordering, to the south, the Empordà wine region in Catalonia in Spain. The AOC production area is limited to four communes of the Côte Vermeille- Banyuls (from which the AOC takes its name), Cerbère, Port-Vendres and Collioure.
While rich and full-bodied, Banyuls is less sweet and syrupy than a typical dessert wine. It possesses a lovely garnet color and a good balanced acidity that making it more delicate than vintage port. Often with hints of oxidized fruits like blackberries, cherries and orange peel. This wine is great on its own, but pairs fabulously with dark or white chocolate.