Banyuls is a fortified wine made from old vines cultivated in terraces on the slopes of the Pyrenees in the Roussillon wine region of Southern France which borders Southern Catalonia in Spain. The vines grow precariously on steep slopes and crags which means that everything has to be done by hand as no tractor would ever get up there! Most of the Banyuls wines are red but some whites are produced as well. The grapes used are Grenache Noir, Grenache gris, Grenache Blanc, Macabeu, Muscat, Malvoise and Carignan.
Banyuls is made in a method similar to that of Port but in France it is known as mutage. Arnau de Villanova, a doctor of medicine at the University of Montpellier, discovered the principle of mutage – adding spirits to stabilise sweet wines in the 13th century. This technique made it possible to keep some of the sweetness contained in the grapes.
Alcohol is added to the must to halt fermentation while sugar levels are still high, preserving the natural sugar of the grape. The wines are then matured in oak barrels, or outside in glass bottles exposed to the sun, allowing the wine to maderise. The maturation period is a minimum of 10 months for Banyuls AOC, and 30 months for Banyuls Grand Crus.
Images Courtesy of www.flickr.com