The oxidative, fortified winemaking tradition of the northwestern Mediterranean is quickly becoming a lost art. The Roussillon, a large part of which is French Catalonia, was historically a very important production area for this style of wine. These wines were for seafaring men, as the wine doesn’t spoil under even the most extreme conditions. The tradition is alive and well at La Tour Vieille, in the ancient port town of Collioure near the Spanish border. Vincent Cantié produces this Banyuls, named after another nearby port, from ripe Grenache whose fermentation is arrested by distilled spirits; the resulting wine is sweet and fruity with about 16 percent alcohol. It is best consumed as a digestif, with chocolate desserts, or in the midst of a mighty gale many miles offshore.
In 1981, Vincent Cantié and Christine Campadieu took over two small, family-owned domaines where they’d grown up, in Collioure and Banyuls. Together, they farm vineyards planted on steep, schist terraces overlooking the sea, exposed to the fierce and wily wind known as “La Tramontagne.” The vineyards are so steep that cultivation must be by hand, and extensive irrigation canals are the only prevention against soil erosion. At harvest, grapes are carried up and down the mountain in baskets. This method of farming, while extremely challenging, preserves the traditions of their ancestors. The heart, soul, and hard work that go into crafting these wines make their labor of love all the more delicious.
Ask wine drinkers around the world, and the word “Languedoc” is sure to elicit mixed reactions. On the one hand, the region is still strongly tied to its past as a producer of cheap, insipid bulk wine in the eyes of many consumers. On the other hand, it is the source of countless great values providing affordable everyday pleasure, with an increasing number of higher-end wines capable of rivaling the best from other parts of France.
While there’s no denying the Languedoc’s checkered history, the last two decades have seen a noticeable shift to fine wine, with an emphasis on terroir. Ambitious growers have sought out vineyard sites with poor, well draining soils in hilly zones, curbed back on irrigation and the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and looked to balance traditional production methods with technological advancements to craft wines with elegance, balance, and a clear sense of place. Today, the overall quality and variety of wines being made in the Languedoc is as high as ever.
Shaped like a crescent hugging the Mediterranean coast, the region boasts an enormous variety of soil types and microclimates depending on elevation, exposition, and relative distance from the coastline and the cooler foothills farther inland. While the warm Mediterranean climate is conducive to the production of reds, there are world-class whites and rosés to be found as well, along with stunning dessert wines revered by connoisseurs for centuries.
For the wines that I buy I insist that the winemaker leave them whole, intact. I go into the cellars now and select specific barrels or cuvées, and I request that they be bottled without stripping them with filters or other devices. This means that many of our wines will arrive with a smudge of sediment and will throw a more important deposit as time goes by, It also means the wine will taste better.
Drinking distilled spirits, beer, coolers, wine and other alcoholic beverages may increase cancer risk, and, during pregnancy, can cause birth defects. For more information go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov/alcohol
Many food and beverage cans have linings containing bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical known to cause harm to the female reproductive system. Jar lids and bottle caps may also contain BPA. You can be exposed to BPA when you consume foods or beverages packaged in these containers. For more information, go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov/bpa