Domaine de la Rectorie Banyuls Cuvée Leon Parcé 2010
Roussillon is one region of France which, unless my memory really has given up for good, I have never visited. This means my visits are vicarious, my boarding pass no more than the writings of others, the journey often fuelled by a timely bottle or two, such as the recent wines from Le Soula. What I read of the region entices me; I learn of sleepy fishing villages frequented by famous artists, drawn here by the wonderful light for painting (and this would also apply to photography - I must remember to pack my camera). A walk up into the vineyards is a voyage of discovery, of inhospitable soils more stone than earth, and of gnarled, ancient vines. I would like very much to visit, one day.
For now, though, I must restrict myself to the wines. The second tasting in the space of only a few weeks came in the shape of a wine from one of the leading names in the appellation, Domaine de la Rectorie. The wines of Roussillon range from dry and savoury, Collioure and Côtes du Roussillon, through to sweet and intense, young Banyuls in particular, to the more esoteric and traditional, and here Rivesaltes springs to mind, especially the more oxidative, rancio styles such as Rivesaltes Ambré Hors d'Âge. I should point out, lest I appear naive, that Banyuls can also be found in these more traditional, aged and rancio styles. Nevertheless this week's wine falls into the middle category, Banyuls in the sweet, youthful, fruit-rich style.
The process for Banyuls is as for vintage Port, the fermentation being brought to a halt by mutage, which is the addition of grape spirit, a technique which produces wines with plenty of sweetening, unfermented residual sugar, yet with more than a kick thanks to all that added alcohol. The wines can be white or red, although most of those I have encountered have been the latter; in this case, eligible varieties are Grenache (Grenache Noir, to be specific) which must comprise more than 50% of the blend (75% for Banyuls Grand Cru), with permissible blending varieties including Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Maccabeu, Tourbat and the Muscats, as well as Carignan, Cinsaut and Syrah, provided these latter varieties do not exceed 10% of the final blend. I have to confess each time I taste a good example - and this week's wine is just that - I think to myself that I have discovered Grenache's real purpose in life. Writing that, I feel I should don a hard hat to ward off the missiles coming my way, thrown by the fans of Châteauneuf du Pape and Gigondas. But I'm afraid its true; as my palate's lack of interest in the wines of the southern Rhône continues to wane, the brighter and purer flavours I perceive in Roussillon - whether fortified or not - continue to pique my interest.
And that is certainly the case with the 2010 Banyuls Cuvée Léon Parcé from Domaine de la Rectorie, this week's choice of wine. When poured into the glass it has just the appearance I expected, showing a rich and deep, vibrant hue, full of purple and black tones, and none of the more faded hues that come with more oxidative styles. The nose is very typical of how Grenache behaves when handled in this manner, showing a huge presence of roasted, macerated cherry skins, suggesting great sweetness, but also counterbalanced by more savoury elements, sometimes suggesting charcoaly grip, sometimes lightly bitter dark chocolate. The palate follows on in the same vein, being rich, textured, sweet, vibrant and fresh despite the huge depth and substance to it. I would not say this is a very complex or nuanced wine, but it is very youthful of course. What it does offer is sweetness intertwined with definition, a brilliantly correct candour, and a long and grainy finish. Overall it brings a huge amount of pleasure, and also brings back some fond memories of the 2001 (I still have a few bottles of that somewhere) and the 1994 (all long gone now, I'm afraid). 17/20 (11/3/13)