On Sunday I hinted that I had a new obsession. I do, and it is bit surprising. I never thought I would fall for sweet wines. As many of my other obsessions, this one has started with a good sommelier, who has managed to sell me a glass that I would never otherwise try. Must have been a good sommelier, as I never even peer at that section of the wine list.
Just like white or red wine, sweet wine is a wide concept. There are many types, from many parts of the world, all produced from different grape varieties and in different ways. Just the term sweet wine does not tell you anything else than that the level of residual sugar is high. Different appellations have different denominators for that as well. So, to start somewhere, I decided to take a deep dive into the type of sweet wine that got me into this new obsession, Vins Doux Naturels (VDNs)- naturally sweet wines from south France.
Vins Doux Natures, or VDNs, are made similar to port wines: a neutral grape spirit is added to stop the fermentation process before the yeasts have eaten all the sugars in the wine. Thus, the wines retains high level of natural sugars. These wines are made mainly in the Rousillon region of southern France from grapes such as Grenache Noir and Blanc, Muscat and a pinch of Tourbat and Maccabeu. The wines taste sweet but not sugary with notes of mineral, cherries and dried fruits and they are served as aperatiffs or as dessert wines. In the very southern tip on France, Pyrenees-Orientales, three areas (appellations) are known for their quality beyond others: Rivesaltes, Banyuls and Maury.
AOP Banyuls is an appellation on the slopes of the Pyrenees, a stone throw away from the Spanish border. Most wines produced in this region are red, predominantly from Grenache Noir, which must comprise at least 50% of the blend (75% for the Grand Crus). Terrain in Banyuls is tougt terrain for farming, the vines are planted on steep slopes or on narrow terraces held in place by low walls facing the sea. Banyuls wines are vinified by direct pressing or maceration, and matured in bottles, foudres, barrels, demi-muids, glass demi-johns or bonbonnes. Just to clarify, bonbonnes and demi-johns are specific types of glass juggs and demi-muids a type of 600 liter oak barrel.
Maury is anothee AOP with focus on VDNs. Its located in the northwest part of Pyrenees-Orientales. The climate of Maury is warm, dry and very Mediterranean influenced. The nearby town of Perpignan is one of the sunniest places in all of France, however mistral types of winds keep Maury cool compared to its neighbors. Most of the wines produced are red with 75% of the blend made from Grenache Noir and may be aged in oak barrels up to 15 years. Maury reds have nice minerality and concentration, and pair well with foie grass and chocolate.
Covering 68 villages in the region of Pyrenees-Orientales, Rivesaltes is the largest AOP for Vins Doux Naturels. The name Rivesaltes comes from the three rivers: Agly, the Têt and the Tech, that cross the land. The grape varieties used areGrenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Grenache Noir and Macabeu as well as Malvoisie may also be included. Most Rivesaltes are aged oxidatively for periods of time that vary according to their classifications. Aging the wines up to 20 years is not uncommon.
In addition to Bayuls, Maury Doux and Rivesaltes AOPs, there are Languedoc-Roussillon Muscats, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise and Rasteau wines that are produced in a similar manner. However, I only included types of wines I have tasted in this article.
Last but not least, I would like to say a few words about the price of these wines. Or I can just say wow! They are extremely price worthy. We looked on the internet what a bottle from the 30’s would cost, and it was a bit over 100€. I know 100€ is a lot of money, but come on, it’s an 85 year old wine. That’s amazing. And when you open a bottle, like port, you can sip on it in peace for several months. If you are really geeky (and can tell the difference after a few days), you can use the Coravin. A wine from the 30’s…just cant get over that. Must go shopping!