There are 4 communes in the Pyrénées Orientales (66) at the heart of the Agly Valley (Maury, Tautavel, Saint Paul de Fenouillet and Rasiguères) authorized to produce AOC Maury, Maury Blanc, Maury ambré, Maury ambré rancio, Maury tuilé, Maury tuilé rancio.
Rancio refers to a style of wine that has been Maderizied by deliberately exposing the wine to oxygen and/or heat to develop the distinctive taste. Ambré is a white wine oxidized in wood for at least 2 years. Tuilé is the red wine version of ambré. Either of these may have Hors d’Age in their name which indicates that the wine spent at least 5 years in wood before bottling.
All of these wines are vin doux naturelles made in a process referred to as mutage. However, they are not naturally sweet as the name implies but rather naturelles means that no sugar was added. The addition of alcohol stops the fermentation process and brings the alcohol level to between 15% to 18% while retaining some of the original sugars that were not converted to alcohol by the terminated fermentation process. The alcohol added must grade at least 96% and represent a minimum of 5% to a maximum of 10%. If this process is not used then the resulting wines in the area are either AOC Côtes du Roussillon or vin de pays.
Oxidation and evaporation play an important role in aging the Maury red wines. Aging may occur in wooden vats with access to the air or even outdoor to speed up the process. Traditionally the wines were left outside in large glass containers called bonbonnes not quite full, exposed to the sun and unstopped or with stoppers that allow oxygen to freely enter the containers.
The prinicpal varieties for Maury rouge are grenache noir, gris or blanc and maccabeu as well as carignan noir or syrah. However grenache noir must be at least 75% with less then 10% maccabeu and less then 10% carignan and syrah combined. The varieites used for Maury blanc are grenache gris or blanc, maccabeu, tourbat, muscat petit grain and muscat d’Alexandrie with the resulting wine having less then 20% muscat.
Mas Amiel is the oldest and best known of the Maury producers. Their wines have been available at Binny’s in Chicago and select Whole Foods stores. Over the years they have changed hands and the quality of the wines have risen and fallen. All recent reports indicate that they are once again producing top quality vin doux naturelles. They are reasonably priced, the taste can be similar to a fine Port with slightly less alcohol. It can be paired with foods as you would Port. Personally I think it is too heavy to be served as an aperitif but is ideal as a dessert wine or digestif.