Saturday, March 03, 2007

Red Dessert Wine: Banyuls of Mas Blanc

It was over a year ago when BrooklynLady and I were talking about dessert wines, how much we love 'em, and how we'd like to taste more of 'em. She told me about this red dessert wine called Banyuls. It's not Port, it's French wine. Red dessert wine? Sounds good. So I stuck Banyuls on my mental list of "buy this if you see it" wines.

Problem is, I never see it, except in the oddest places. Chambers Street doesn't carry a Banyuls, neither does Prospect Wines. But the grotty little hole in the wall that just opened on Flatbush Avenue, the one that seems to specialize in half pints of no-name vodka - they have a Banyuls. I couldn't bring myself to buy it though - it had associated with too much bad wine and vodka during its time on the shelves, and maybe it's personality had turned bad.

So I waited. I had some idea of what I was looking for: Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book and Robert Parker's book both mention Domaine du Mas Blanc as an excellent producer of Banyuls sweet wines. Domaine Mas Amiel is also mentioned, but those wines are not Banyuls. They are called Maury. So what's the story with these sweet wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon anyway?

The Languedoc-Roussillon could easily be two different wine regions, as it is somewhat spread out along the Mediterranean coast and inland, from the western edge of Provence all the way to the Spanish border near the city of Perpignan. Almost all of the Rhone grape varietals are used in the Languedoc-Roussillon - there are similarities in climate. Much of Roussillon is hilly,
the foothills of the Pyrenees. The vineyards are drenched in hot sun and there is not a lot of rain, perfect for hardy grapes like Carignan and Grenache.

Vins Doux Naturels, or natural sweet wines, are fortified wines like Port and Sherry. They must contain a minimum of 50% Grenache to be called Banyuls (the fishing port south on the southern coast of Perpignan) or Maury (the hilly northern coast). Alcohol is added to the fermenting wine, stopping fermentation, leaving plenty of natural sugar in the juice. Fortified wines can stay healthy after they are opened - no need to gulp this stuff down, although I bet you'll want to do just that. Careful though - these can be 17-18% alcohol, so after wine with dinner, this can sock you like a lead pipe. Like Port and other fortified wines, Banyuls are capable of extended aging. They are noted for pairing perfectly with chocolate - exciting, if you like chocolate desserts, and I know that you do.

Mas is the word for 'farmhouse' in southern France, hence the reason you see Mas in the names of so many producers. Dr. Andre Parce, until he died some years back, and his son Jean-Michel have been putting out highly regarded wines at Mas Blanc for over 30 years. Dry wines from the Collioure appellation, using Syrah, Mourvedre, and Counoise, a couple of whites here and there, and famous sweet wines from Banyuls.

Mas Blanc makes several sweet wines. Rimage, meant for drinking young, Rimage la Coume, made from the best barrels of Rimage, and only in better vintages, Banyuls
Vieille Vignes, and a special, slightly oxidized cuvee, made with juice from various vintages and named after Jean Michel's father, called Cuvee du Dr. Andre Parce.

I have succeeded in finding absolutely none of these wines on NYC shelves. Winezap says they are available in the US though - those of you in LA, the DC area, and a few other places should be able to find them if you're interested. I had to turn to the secondary market - I bought a few half bottles of the Rimage on auction at Wine Commune. I could have bought Rimage la Coume, but only full 750 ml bottles were on auction and I couldn't imagine knocking back so much red dessert wine...until I tasted the "lesser" Rimage when it arrived. Here is what's available in Banyuls and other Languedoc-Roussillon wines today on Wine Commune.

2004 Domaine du Mas Blanc Banyuls Rimage
, $13 for 375ml (secondary market).
Dark, almost black, with dark cherry rims. Smells like chocolate covered cherries and cocoa powder, and fresh orange peel, a hint of wintergreen? Vivid sense of purity to the aromas. Dark cherries, Dr. Pepper, and plenty of cocoa on the palate. Rich and decadent, but light on its feet, good balancing acidity. Really long sweet cherry finish. I had to force myself to stop drinking it (lies - my wife made me stop).

This wine is great on it's own (second night), but it was a little ridiculous when we had it the first night with a dark chocolate and ginger candy bar. Like rethink-everything-about-dessert-wine ridiculous. How good must that Rimage la Coume be?!? And the Vieille Vignes? I think we have to go to the Languedoc-Roussillon.

12 comments:

mikithecig said...

I have to admit not being ultra keen on Banyuls, but love Picpoul de Pinet- also a wine from the Languedoc. Here is my article, pubished, on this wine..

Picpoul- the little known wine with a great future

This rare little gem of a white wine can be found in the Languedoc, France. Its full name is Picpoul de Pinet. Situated on a limestone plateau, the vineyards of Picpoul overlook the oyster and mussel-farming centre of the Thau lagoon. The white wine is made from a single Piquepoul grape variety and is a light acidic wine, with floral and citrus fruit aromas, which render it an ideal accompaniment to seafood. The AOC Coteaux du Languedoc: Picpoul de Pinet classification applies only to white wines.

Picpoul is a rare, ancient French grape that thrives in the coastal sands near Sète in the Languedoc, by the Mediterranean Sea. Its blend of refreshing acidity and aromatic fruit flavors of citrus and peach, make it a fantastic, full-bodied wine to enjoy with food. It is particularly well suited to seafood because it has more floral flavors than a mineral wine, like a Sancerre. Unlike Voignier, another rare French white grape, Picpoul has not yet been exported much and is consumed almost exclusively by the locals and tourists who vacation in the area.

This clear, light-gold wine breathes appetizing aromas of peaches, juicy and fresh, with a back note of lemon-lime. Crisp and tart, white-fruit flavors and lemon-squirt acidity are fresh and cleansing in a very long finish. Not overly complex but bright and appealing, it's a first-rate seafood wine. It has been called the Muscadet of the south of France. It is the wine that is usually served with oysters that can be found along the coasts of the Languedoc.

Serve very cool between 6 and 8°C to accompany all seafood, shellfish and fish. It can also be served as an aperitif, either alone or with a touch of crème de cassis (blackcurrant) or crème de mûre (blackberry).

Picpoul Blanc (also spelled Piquepoul Blanc) is one of the lesser-known Rhône varietals. It is one of the thirteen permitted varietals in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where it is used primarily as a blending component to take advantage of its acidity. Like the better known Grenache and Pinot, Picpoul has red, white and pink variants, though Picpoul Noir and Picpoul Gris are very rare. Literally translating to “lip stinger”, Picpoul Blanc produces wines known in France for their bright acidity, minerality, and clean lemony flavor.

Most scholars believe Picpoul is native to the Languedoc region of Southern France, where it is still found today. Records from the early 17th century indicate that it was blended with Clairette (another white Rhône varietal) to form the popular sweet Picardan wine (not to be confused with the Chateauneuf du Pape varietal of the same name), which was exported by Dutch wine traders from Languedoc throughout Northern Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. After the phylloxera invasion at the end of the 19th century, Picpoul was not widely replanted. Today it is best known from Picpoul de Pine, the crisp light green wine of the Pinet Region in the Côteaux de Languedoc.
So, when you are next in the Languedoc, or looking for wines in your Wine merchant’s store, take a serious look at wines from Picpoul. You will not be disappointed!
Further info on http://www.wine-food-languedoc.com

Brooklynguy said...

Hey Miki,

Thanks for stopping by. Maybe next time you could leave a link to your article, and also tell us who you are. In fact - why not do that now so I can point people in your direction, instead of publishing the text in the comment space?

Joe said...

Hey brooklynguy, I had that Banyuls at a fancy restaurant once, paired with a chocolate-covered duck appetizer. Yummy. The Terra Vinya (had that to end our January Merlot tasting) Banyuls was very nice as well, but I am still not sure how I feel about Banyuls vs. Port, or various other "stickies".

Push Button Blogger said...

Chapoutier makes an excellent Banyuls. There is also another sweet red wine called Maydie which is from Madiran and is 100 percent tannat. It's similar to Banyuls but it is more subtle, dark black fruit as opposed to the more red bright, syrupy fruit of Banyuls.

Brooklynguy said...

Hey Joe,
Yeah, I'm not saying it's the best thing going, but I was surprised by how good it is. And it's interesting wine, less expensive than port or comparable quality, I think. Hi Push Button - never heard of Maydie but I will keep an eye out - Joe (above) recently was writing about Tannat, so that's even more incentive for me to find the wine. Thanks for the tip, and for stopping by.

Joe said...

Interesting - I never heard of a sweet Tannat before - I will have to look that up. The Aydie Laplace (related) is a great dry Madiran, but I would grab the Bouscasse instead. I had a Torus (Tannat/Merlot) from the Montus folk - an inexpensive walk off the beaten path. Cheers!

Brooklynguy said...

Joe,
All of these are new to me, and I will look for them. I wonder, are you and I just exposed to different wines, based on Canadian and US importing deals?

Joe said...

Hmm - I just wrote a lenghthy reply and it disappeared. Anyway, in Quebec (as opposed to the rest of Canada) we probably have more quirky French stuff than NYC, while you have more Aussie/California stuff. But that is generalizing. I think you and I could buy almost the same stuff all the time if we chose to. My Madiran interest is a quirk (I seem to get a lot of hits on my site for 'tannat') - we had an all-comers tasting, and I loved the Chateau Montus Cuvee Prestige. I have been hooked ever since. You should have no trouble finding Montus or Bouscasse locally. I had a great tannat/merlot from Pisano wines of Uruguay as well, if you are really going off the beaten path.

Rob W said...

Hey Brooklynguy,
I'm glad I discovered your site as I'm in French wine hell down here in Arkansas. I got used to drinking wines other than from places like California and Australia while living in Chicago the last 12 years and have been writing about my quest for decent wine at http://www.365corks.com Keep writing and I'll have to live vicariously through your site until I can convince some of these knuckleheads down here that French, Italian, etc., are good wines!
Rob W.

Brooklynguy said...

Hey Rob,
Thanks for stopping by, and sorry for the delay responding. I just got back in town. I will definitely check out your blog, and I will definitely keep writing about French wine. I love American wine too, by the way - Oregon Pinot and Long Island wines are great. Take it easy.

mikithecig said...

Hey Brooklyn Guy- it is mikithecig again. Thanks for your comments.
About me. I have lived and work in S AFrica, the USA (Fl), the UK and France in Sales and Marketing. I left the rat race of London about 2 years ago. I live and work in the Languedoc where I arrange wine,food,and culture tours in the region- hey-and also write articles too! Pleased that you liked the last one about Picpoul!
My tour company is http://www.wine-food-languedoc.com.

Vino Gatito said...

Great post. I was just in Roussillon and noticed that Banyuls is popular there as an apertif. It definitely puts one in the mood for the long, hearty, multi-course dinners that the locals love.