For my second entry into Wine Blogging Wednesday (WBW) #33, I tried out a "vin doux naturel" from the Banyuls region of Languedoc- Roussillon, France. As I described in my first WBW#33 entry, the theme for this month was "Mid-Priced wines from the Midi" (i.e., $15-$30 bottles of wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, also known as the Midi. You can read all about it at the WBW#33 host's blog, Doktor Weingolb.
The wine I selected for Entry #2 was a 2003 Banyuls Rimage Les Clos de Paulilles, purchased for $16 (for a 500 mL bottle) at Total Wine in McLean, VA. The Banyuls region is located in the far south of France near to the border with Spain/Catalonia. "Rimage" is a Catalan word meaning vintage, so much like a vintage Port all grapes for this wine came from a single declared year (2003, in this case). Also like a vintage Port, this wine has been fortified: neutral grape alcohol is added in a process known as mutage to halt fermentation, allowing some of the natural sugars to remain in the wine. The Clos de Paulilles Banyuls was made from 100% Grenache (noir) grapes.
Rusted red in color, this Banyuls had a bit of an astringent nose (not too surprising given its 16% alcohol; this is less than many Ports however, which can be in the 20% alcohol range). You'd think this may make the wine "hot" on the tongue, but it was quite smooth. On the palate were flavors of dried cherries and dried cranberries (my wife wasn't so sure about the cranberries) - the point here is "dried" since this was a rich, intense wine, almost syrupy sweet due to the concentration of fruit flavor. I also detected a hint of berries and chocolate.
I'm a big fan of tawny Ports, so I was interested in trying something a little different, which the 2003 Banyuls Rimage Les Clos de Paulilles most certainly was. When judged on it's own however, I would only give this Good Quality-to-price Ratio (QPR). I was definitely enjoying the wine, but for the $16 price tag I can get a 750 mL bottle of a nice tawny that I would enjoy as much or more.
But then I broke out some Green & Black's 70% Cocoa Dark Chocolate. YUM!! I frequently attempt to match red wine and chocolate, but I have to say I think this is one of the most perfect matches I have yet tasted. Once the dark chocolate entered the picture, the QPR shot up to "Great". If you're interested in trying Banyuls, do yourself a favor and make sure you've got a good bar of dark chocolate in the house!
I also think the 2003 Banyuls Rimage Les Clos de Paulilles would make an interesting choice for someone looking for a red dessert wine that hasn't found what they were looking for in a Port. The slightly lower alcohol level helps ease the burn, which is what I think turns a lot of people off of Port initially. So consider this a Port Alternative for non-Port drinkers.