M. Chapoutier Banyuls 1992
The history of the Chapoutier family stretches back to the early nineteenth century when current owner Michel Chapoutier's great-, great-, great-grandfather Marius purchased an estate and some vineyards in the now famous village of Tain l'Hermitage in the Northern Rhône Valley. Marius Chapoutier made history in the region when he became the first grape grower there to vinify his own fruit. Marius had tasted wines other winemakers produced using his fruit and he realized that something was lost in translation, so to speak. He knew that he owned some of the best growing sites in the appellation and he believed — rightly — that the grapes grown in his vineyards could produce long-lived world-class wines. In a move unusual at the time, he decided that he should make the wine himself. Not only did the quality of the wines increase greatly, but this move provided the capital to expand the Chapoutiers’ already legendary estate.
A visionary and pioneer in biodynamic winemaking, his restless energy and unconditional commitment to quality have produced tremendous success, with the most 90+ point ratings of all Rhône producers and 16 "100 point" rated wines.
Unique among the vins doux naturels of Roussillon, all Banyuls wines are made predominantly of Grenache's many variants. Grenache Noir, the most respected, makes up the majority of Banyuls wines. By law it is a minimum of 50% of the blend, and 75% of the blend for Grands Crus wines. The pink-skinned Grenache Gris is next in importance, followed by Grenache Blanc and other local varieties. While the Muscat grapes are permitted, they can be present only in very small proportions.
The region itself, located in the far southern corner of Roussillon on the border of Spain, includes about 1,000 hectares of fully-exposed, sun-drenched, Mediterranean-facing terraced vineyards. These punishing conditions result in shriveled berries and concentrated juice, whose fermentation process must be arrested with fortification (locally called mutage) when the must reaches 15% alcohol. A finished Banyuls is typically about 16% with some residual sugar; without mutage, it would end up a dry wine with closer to 19% alcohol.
Some producers deliberately expose their wine to the harsh Mediterranean sunlight, set outside in glass demijohns, for an effect called rancio, similar to the effect of maderizing, or giving an overripe (but appealing) character. The bouquet on Banyuls wines typically includes aromas of baked or dried fruit and sweet spices. Red versions have the tell-tale Grenache aroma of sweet, spiced strawberries. Banyuls wines must be aged for 12 months in wood, or 30 months in the case of Grands Crus Banyuls.
Grenache thrives in any warm, Mediterranean climate where ample sunlight allows its clusters to achieve full phenolic ripeness. While Grenache's birthplace is Spain (there called Garnacha), today it is more recognized as the key player in the red blends of the Southern Rhône, namely Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côtes du Rhône and its villages. Somm Secret—The Italian island of Sardinia produces bold, rustic, single varietal Grenache (there called Cannonau). California, Washington and Australia have achieved found success with Grenache, both flying solo and in blends.