Considered a naturally sweet wine, or vin doux naturels, Banyuls is a type of dessert wine from a southwest region of France. An appellation, a Banyuls wine is any one of a number of sweet wines coming from the region in or around the town of Banyuls-sur-Mer. Banyuls is considered one of France's finest, most complex wines.
Made on only 2,500 acres of vineyard, Banyuls wine is often red, but comes in blush and white varieties as well. In general, the wine has a crisp flavor, tasting of fruits or sweet coffee. The red, particularly, pairs well with chocolate or other sweet desserts.
Banyuls wines use primarily grenache grapes. As autumn begins, the grapes are harvested. Grapes used for red wines are processed whole, with the skins and seeds intact. Those used for the blush and white wines have the skins and seeds removed before they are processed.
Barrel-aged, the wine is placed in oak casks for a year or more. Many varieties may spend closer to eight years aging. Some wines are aged by an oxidation process, and so are placed in barrels with one end open to the air. These wines are often referred to as rimage.
Normally the process of fermentation converts the sugars found in the grapes to alcohol. The more sugars that are reduced, the drier — and less sweet — the resulting wine. In Banyuls wines, the fermentation process is stopped when the alcohol level is approximately six percent. Called mutage, adding alcohol, or pure grape spirit, to the wine stops the fermentation process while there are still sugars in the wine. Using this process, winemakers ensure the sweet taste of their wines.
Banyuls is a fortified wine. In fortified wines, alcohol is added during some stage of their creation. Up to 10 percent pure alcohol is added to this wine in order to bring the overall alcohol content of the wine up to its usual 15 percent goal.
In 1936, laws were passed which determined how Banyuls wines could be made. Called appellation laws, these laws were designed to ensure the wines were always of the same quality and that no one outside the region could claim to make a Banyuls wine. In addition to restricting the location of where this wine could be made, some examples of the appellation laws include disallowing any type of irrigation system in the vineyards and disallowing the growing of fruit trees on the same land as the vineyards.