Monday, September 05, 2005

WBW13: Like Banyuls For Chocolate

This is my first participation to Wine Blogging Wednesday. I thought the theme proposed by Clotilde was a terrific idea. I already made Trish Deseine's delicious Nathalie's Melt-in-Your-Mouth Chocolate Cake, and so I was familiar with the Melt-in-your-mouth Chocolate Cake that Clotilde proposed in her blog.

It is not easy to choose a wine that works well with dark chocolate because chocolate has strong bittersweet aromas that can easily overwhelm most of the wines. But I knew right away that I wanted to try a Banyuls, a wine that I had never tasted before, and which is supposed to be a classic match with chocolate. I was lucky to find a 1988 Banyuls Grand Cru at K&L Wine Merchants that looked very promising.

Banyuls represents the southernmost wine appellation in France, just at the border of Spain. It is made of vertiginous, terraced, low-yield vineyards overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The soil is mainly schist through which the roots of the vines filter to find water. Irrigation channels are designed to handle the flow of water mostly during the winter months.

The climate is hot and dry during summer with heavy rains during winter. The Tramontane, a northwesterly wind blowing at speeds reaching 40 mph or more, keeps the air very dry and prevents fungal diseases in the vineyard. Grenache Noir is the king varietal under these difficult growing conditions.

In the Middle Ages, the small town of Banyuls was a center for the Knights Templar. They organized the vineyard, built terraces, drystone walls, and irrigation channels. They also started making wine according to the vinification method of Arnau de Villanova, a Catalan doctor, who invented the principle of fortification with a neutral wine alcohol in order to stop the fermentation and stabilise the wines. With this method, part of the natural sugar of the grape was preserved without modifying the aromas. In order to produce a longer-lived and more subtantial wine, the alcohol can be added on the grape skins, so that a percentage of alcohol is absorbed by the skins.

Another characteristic of Banyuls wines is their aging process: barrels are often left under the winery roof, or even outside, in glass demijohn, to subject the wine to both the summer and winter extremes of temperature. Consequently, the wine acquires a distinctive rancio taste of oxidized fruits.

My Banyuls was produced by the Cave de l"Etoile. Founded in 1921, it is the oldest Cooperative of the area and is specialized in making old Banyuls. It was a Grand Cru, which means that the wine had a minimum of 75% of Grenache Noir, and had been aged for 30 months.

My daughter and I made the cake in the morning for the evening dinner to give it some time to rest. I found the recipe very easy and fun to do with children.

I served the cake with a coffee custard sauce and the 1988 Banyuls Grand Cru Cave de L'Etoile Cuvée Reservée. The dessert was delicious and the wine was fantastic. The wine had a deep amber color and an attractive raisiny nose. On the palate, it was smooth and rich. The mouthfeel was sensuous with aromas of macerated red fruits, bitter chocolate, moka and sherry, leading to a long lingering finish. The wine was strong enough to withstand the intensity of the cake and its flavors were in perfect harmony with the chocolate. What a wonderful time we had! Looking forward to hearing about WBW14!

Great books to learn more about Banyuls:
Rosemary George, the wines of the South of France : From Banyuls to Bellet
Jancis Robinson, the Oxford Companion to Wine

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1 comment:

The Corkdork said...

Really nice post. Glad to have some more info on Banyuls production. Looks like I have to make a trip to K&L soon!