Banyuls is the finest and most complex of France’s fortified Vin Doux Naturels, a dark wine borne of sea, sun and stone. It emerges from one of the most spectacular terroirs in all of France: a terraced patchwork of steep, windswept vineyards set hard by the Spanish border, where the Pyrénées tumble into the Mediterranean Sea. This is Catalan country, stubborn and fierce, where man and mule have tended ancient vineyards for centuries.
With Maury and Rivesaltes, Banyuls was one of the first appellations recognized under the French AOC system in 1936. Co-extensive with Collioure, its schist-dominated vineyards rise to altitudes of 750 meters and retain the distinctive “feixas” terraces and stone-lined canals known locally as “les agulles” (“the needles”), constructed centuries ago to prevent erosion and manage the region’s infrequent but often torrential downpours.
There are four Banyuls communes that dot the coastline of the Côte Vermeille before the Spanish border: Collioure, Port-Vendres, Banyuls-sur-Mer and Cerbère. With old vines and exceedingly low yields, production is necessarily tiny. Banyuls can be made white, rosé or red, but the large majority of wine produced is red, and Grenache noir, gris and blanc form the backbone of any blend. It can be made in two basic styles, depending upon its elevage: Banyuls Rimage is bottled young, its evolution (like that of vintage Port) necessarily in the bottle. Banyuls traditonnel is aged oxidatively for a minimum of five years before bottling; with or without temperature control (and occasionally out-of-doors); and in a variety of containers ranging from old barrique, demi-muids and foudres, as well as glass demijohns. Classic Banyuls is defined by its grace and nuance, its proximity to the sea serving to temper its native power, lending a savory, smoky maritime character to its wines.