Beguiling Banyuls

by Lisse Garnett

Beguiling Banyuls

Lisse Garnett on discovering the enthralling sweet wines of Banyuls in beautiful, picturesque Collioure.


I supped sweet Banyuls in Collioure and fell in love with this complex, sensual, alluring,
unfathomably affordable ancient cure for melancholy. Octogenarian vines furnish the
grapes for these poetic endeavours, which now languish under-priced, unseen, and
undervalued by a world set on dryness.

Collioure lies on the cusp of Spain, a fishing village set in a bay protected by cliffs, peppered
with limestone fortresses, where the Pyrenean Cordillera meets, through the Albères
mountains, the lapis sea. There, the Catalan influence is as robust as the wine.
Ruined watchtowers guard garrigue-covered hills, and timeless terraces, oft-abandoned,
cling to vertiginous slopes; mechanical farming is impossible. Here came the Phoenicians,
the Romans, the Ancient Greeks and the Knights Templar, who saw the landscape’s
potential for rare sweetness and reaped riches trading its luscious vinous treasures.

The area of Banyuls AOP and Collioure AOP are one and the same region, though they
produce different styles of wine. Banyuls is the distillate of a 1000-year-old human quest for
curative sweetness: fortified, luscious, naturally sweet with refreshing acidity. Collioure is
dry, and produces elegant, often saline, red, rosé, or white wines.

Banyuls vins doux naturels (fortified sweet wines) must be made from 50% Grenache Noir
and Banyuls Grand Cru at least 75%. Grand Cru must also spend at least two and a half years
in wood; examples from as far back as the 60s are readily available and might be found in
the magical labyrinthine cellars of producers. Alcohol is added to the must while on the
skins, allowing for sumptuous, tangy, textural flavours. Demijohns, open to the elements,
capped but unsealed, furnish intoxicatingly exciting oxidative notes. Élevage might
incorporate wood ageing or even a solera.

Banyuls Grand Cru AOP wines are oxidized, tawny in colour, and can be dry, rancio, or
sweet. Banyuls AOP can be produced as Rimage (red), Blanc, or Rosé. They are also oxidized,
with tawny or amber colours. Complexity is guaranteed.

Matisse, Derain, Dufy and Picasso discovered and immortalised Collioure in their work. With
its exceptional light and majestic history, this small fishing village has a peerless power to
intoxicate all who come. A veritable room of requirement, all things to all people, there is
something intense and sustaining in the landscape that supernaturally transfers itself into
the wine. Fluctuations of ages have lent this place both prosperity and anonymity; as such, it
lies ready to sate the questing palate with a sensual souk of vinous treasures, just waiting to
be unearthed by enlightened seekers.