I travelled southeast to the Côte Vermeille, or vermillion coast, along the Mediterranean one day both as a general tourist and a wine tourist. It’s no wonder that so many artists, such as Matisse and his followers of Fauvism, took much of their inspiration in this area – stunning scenery and such vibrant colours. I drove over the hills from the Côtes d’Agly, through such villages as Ansignan and Montlalba-le-Château and lovely towns such as Ille-sur-Têt and Bages, as well as the highly touristic Argelès-Plage, en route to Collioure. Stunning is really the only word I can use to describe the vistas I encountered there. Despite the hordes of elderly tourists, it was a lovely place to spend a few hours wandering through the castle and winding streets full of pastel buildings.
I continued south along the coast to Banyuls-sur-Mer, the home of very famous sweet wines. I stopped in at the Terres des Templiers as I was told it was the best place to visit to see how the wines are made in Banyuls. This is a wine region that was delimited at the same time as Bordeaux, Champagne and Cognac in 1905. The Terres des Templiers is a group of 750 winegrowers in the region, accounting for 1100ha of the total 1700ha, consisting of 55% of the Banyuls AOC, 70% of the Collioure AOC and 75% of the Banyuls Grand Cru AOC. I missed out on the grand tour by a few minutes and didn’t have time to wait for another hour but I joined in with another group at the tail end of their tour for the tasting component. I started with the 2012 Cuvée de la Salette (AOC Collioure), a rosé blend of 70% Grenache Noir, 20% Carignan and 10% Syrah. It is pale salmon in colour with medium-minus intensity on the nose. It has aromas and flavours of citrus and red fruit and is dry with medium-plus acidity. The 2011 Cuvée Saint-Michel (AOC Collioure) is a red blend of 85% Grenache Noir and 15% Carignan. It is pale ruby in colour and was served too cold to be able to find any discernable aromas. It is dry with medium acidity and tannins with flavours of red fruits; not a very complex wine. Next we moved on to a Banyuls Traditionel Saint Vicens, made of 50% Grenache Noir and 50% Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc. It is a medium garnet in colour with a raisin nose. It is medium-sweet to sweet and full-bodied with flavours of raisin and fruitcake on the palate and a long finish. Finally came the Banyuls Grand Cru Mas de la Serra, 2005 vintage, bottled in 2011. It is a Vin Doux Naturel that is a blend of 90% Grenache Noir and 10% Grenache Gris. It is a medium garnet in colour, starting to verge on brown. It has rich aromas of raisin, prune and chocolate. It is sweet with medium acidity and a full body. It has flavours of raisin, prune and sweet spice. It has a long finish and is very well-balanced.
Next I visited a small cooperative that had been recommended to me by my hostess – Banyuls l’Étoile. This is a cooperative of 90 winegrowers (vs 750 at Terres des Templiers) that was established in 1921. The 2012 Les Toiles Fauves (AOC Collioure) is 100% Grenache Blanc and a pale lemon colour, with a tiny bit of sediment in the glass. It has a tropical nose with a hint of spice. It is dry with medium acidity and a round mouthfeel. It has flavours of tropical fruit, citrus and spice with nice complexity and a long finish. The 2012 Les Toiles Fauves Rosé is a blend of 60% Syrah and 40% Grenache Noir. It is a pale salmon colour with a candied banana nose. It is slightly off-dry with citrus and spice on the palate and a round mouthfeel. It was not my favourite of the rosés on my trip. The 2011 Collioure Montagne is a blend of 60% Grenache Noir (40-year-old vines), 30% Syrah (20-year-old vines) and 10% Mourvèdre (30-year-old vines). It is medium ruby in colour with red fruit and spice on the nose. It is dry with medium acidity and medium-plus tannins with dried fruit, red fruit and spice on the palate. The 2011 Les Toiles Fauves Rouge is a blend of 60% Grenache Noir (40-year-old vines) and 40% Syrah (20-year-old vines). It is medium ruby in colour with dark fruit and spice on the nose. It is dry with medium acidity and medium-plus tannins. It has flavours of pepper, cherry and dark berries on the palate. The 2008 l’Étoile Rubis is medium ruby to garnet in colour. It has aromas of caramel, dried fruit and spice on the nose. It is dry with medium acidity and softening tannins with flavours of dried fruit, fruitcake and caramel with a medium-plus finish. The 2011 Le Clos du Fourat is a blend of 50% Grenache Noir (40-year-old vines), 40% Syrah (20-year-old vines) and 10% Mourvèdre (30-year-old vines). It is medium ruby in colour with a fruity nose. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and medium tannins with dark fruit and pepper on the palate; very tasty. Onto the Banyuls… the 1991 l’Étoile Cuvée Reserve Banyuls is a blend of 75% Grenache Noir, 15% Grenache Gris and 10% Carignan Noir, with all vines being older than 40 years. It is medium brown in colour with a nutty nose of caramel, fruitcake and stewed plums. It is sweet with a round mouthfeel and delicious flavours of raisin, rancio, fruitcake and caramel. Such a treat to finish with! L’Étoile also has many old vintages available (sadly my budget didn’t extend to the vintage of my birth year – 1975), as well as Marc (the French term for grappa). I had a lovely experience in the tasting room here, with locals popping in regularly to pick up their favourites.