About this Blog

The blog focuses on the essence of wine and food, not how many points or stars it receives. The opinions are mine and should be taken only as that, an opinion not gospel.

Like many collectors, initially I was very much influenced by wine ratings. I purchased wines based on points, even if I had never tasted the wine. And it was much worse than that. I would drink a wine with a high rating, not like it, yet since it was highly rated I’d rationalize that I did not yet appreciate the wine, or that my palate was not sophisticated enough to understand the wine. How’s that for lunacy? As a result my cellar grew in all directions while my palate narrowed. By the time I realized the style of wine that I enjoyed, my cellar abounded with wines whose styles I did not enjoy. All of these wines were very highly rated, just not my cup of tea, or glass of wine to be more accurate. Fortunately I was able to sell many of these wines to those who either enjoyed them or wanted highly rated wines. Don’t misunderstand, I am not against wines with high ratings, in fact I own many. It is just that I now purchase wines based on the producer, the style and my palate, not the rating. Nor do I shun reading reviews. I very much respect Antonio Galloni, Alan Meadows, Eric Asimov and John Gilman and read their reviews routinely. I pay attention to what they write, not the points they award.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Magnificent Wines of Chateau Rayas

Our local wine group met last evening at a new venue, Roberts Scratch Kitchen, Totowa, NJ.  . Opened last May, this is a cozy, attractive restaurant serving fresh food with a smile.  Owner Robert explained that he has no freezer and that everything is cooked from scratch daily with fresh ingredients.  In lieu of printing or reciting the daily specials, Robert displays them pictorially on an iPad while he describes each.  To begin with, we enjoyed two terrific shrimp dishes

RSK Shrimp (Sautéed Shrimp in Sweet Chili Sauce)
Shrimp Sautéed in Olive Oil, Lemon and  Butter Sauce Over Pieces of Polenta 
Although not pictured we also shared Hand cut Fries with Long Hots and Fresh Mozzarella; lightly Fried Calamari Served with Ginger Sauce; Diced Tuna Sashimi with toast points.  

In addition to all the appetizers being delicious, on Monday evenings they are all priced at $10.

Main courses faired equally well.

1 lb. Veal Chop, pounded thin and served Parmigianno style with pasta.
An enormous serving that was shared by two of us. 
Chilean Sea Bass Risotto
Rigatoni with Lobster & Brocolli Rape 

Emil, our wine host for the evening, treated us to 5 magical Southern Rhone red wines from Chateau Rayas. Many consider the estate, myself included, to be the benchmark for Châteauneuf du Pape and Cotes du Rhone wines, both red and white.  Today the family’s three properties, Château Rayas, Château des Tours and Château de Fonsalette are under the direction Emmanuel Reynaud, nephew of the legendary Jacques Reynaud.  These traditionally made wines are not easy to come by and on the pricey side for their top wines.  In my opinion, they are worth every penny and provide an exciting drinking experience.

Chateau Rayas is a small ten-hectare vineyard, in the heart of the woods, planted in very poor, sandy soil producing wines with great finesse. While CdP laws allow for all 13 grapes in the region to be included in the wine, Chateau Rayas uses only Grenache for the red and Grenache and Clairette for the white CdP.

Chateau Fonsalette is a large property with a dozen or so hectares of vines, woods, agricultural land and olive trees. Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah are used for the red wines.  On occasion the estate will bottle a 100% Syrah.  Grenache, Clairette and Marsanne are used for the white. The grapes are vinified and sold at Rayas.

Chateau Des Tours is a 40-hectare property of vines, a mother plantation, cereals and a plot of olive trees planted in 1997. The grape varieties are as follows: Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Merlot and Counoise for red wine.  Grenache and Clairette are used for white wine.

We began the evening with 2011 Rayas La Pialade Cotes Du Rhone.  This amazing wine is a blend of 80% Grenache, 15% Cinsault and 5% syrah.  It is made from fruit that didn't make the cut for Rayas, Pignan or Fonsalette and thus sells at a fraction of the price of these wines ($50). This is one of the best Cotes Du Rhone I have ever tasted.  Gorgeous bright red translucent hue with a peppery palate of lovely pure fruit with superb balance, complexity and a lengthy finish.  A wine with soul that evolves with time in the glass.

2006 Rayas Pignan Chateauneuf du Pape Réservé followed.  Pignan is the second wine of Rayas. However, because much of Pignan comes from their more northern vines, it can also be looked at as a unique brand.  Pignan is produced from almost 100% old vine Grenache and also uses grapes from their young vines. Pignan is aged for 16 months in demi-muids and foudres. Only 650 cases are produced each year.  My first sip gave me a moment of concern as the wine yielded very little.  However a few moments of air and the wine began to soar from the glass. An enticing bouquet of pepper and spice was echoed on a superbly balanced palate that had fantastic depth.  The wine never stopped evolving in the glass and finished with fantastic length. Truly a wine with soul!

2004 Rayas Chateauneuf de Fonsalette Réservé.  A Cotes Du Rhone blend of 50% Grenache, 35% Cinsault and 15% Syrah, the wine was delicious, like those before it.  I loved the pepper palate and lengthy finish.  

2006 Rayas Chateauneuf Du Pape Réservé.   The flagship wine of the estate is made from 100% Grenache and is aged in large, ancient wood vats, or "foudres" that are 80 to 100 years old. What a wine.  While in my opinion it lacks the elegance of the 2005 vintage, it is round and delicious with a pure and beautifully balanced palate and lengthy finish.  This wine should age beautifully for another couple of decades.

1985 Rayas Pignan Chateauneuf du Pape Réservé.  While the wine lacked a bit of the freshness of the other wines, for its age it had wonderful balance, depth and complexity.  Finished a bit shorter than the others, but a terrific wine and a joy to drink.

Rayas, in my opinion, is amongst the top ten winemakers in the world.  I love his wines and thus am very grateful of Emil’s generosity for treating us to such a magnificent tasting.