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.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Wines of Rayas

Our local wine group met last Wednesday at Turtle + The Wolf restaurant in Montclair. Chef/owner Lauren Hirschberg learned his craft at Craft in Manhattan working under Tom Colicchio.  He learned it so well that he became culinary director for all the Colicchio restaurants before heading out on his own.  The BYOB restaurant serves locally sourced seasonal foods that are expertly prepared

Steak tartare, black garlic aioli, crispy potato, egg yolk, crostini
Burrata + spaghetti squash crepe, baby kale, marinated apples, cured egg yolk, saba
Roasted Cauliflower
Short Ribs of Beef
Ricotta raviolo + smoked pork ragout, egg yolk, pickled onion, gremolata, parmigiano-reggiano
Potato gnocchi "caccio e pepe", parmigiano-reggiano, butter, black pepper
Pan seared Bronzino fall vegetables, sunflower romesco + aged balsamic vinegar
Duck pot pie, braised leg, foie gras, duck heart gravy, bacon, root vegetables
Not pictured Chicken liver mousse, rhubarb puree, pickled red onion, mustard seeds, toasted brioche

The wines, brought and selected by Jim, were from the three Chateau Rayas properties; Chateau des Tours, Chateau De Fonsalette and Chateau Rayas.  These estates are all located in the Southern Rhone Region of France.  The estates today are in the very capable hands of Emmanuel Reynaud, who took over Chateau Rayas and Chateau De Fonsalette when his uncle Jacques Reynaud died suddenly in 1997.  At the time Emmanuel was making wines at his father’s Chateau des Tours.  Jacques Reynard is often referred to as the godfather of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  In my opinion Rayas and Henri Bonneu are the standards when it comes to traditionally made Chateauneuf du Pape and Cotes du Rhone.

Emmanuel is somewhat reclusive, and can be found working his vineyards at most any time of day, every day. Emmanuel does not revel in the fame and notoriety that come with making such sought-after and acclaimed wines, but he continues to carry the mantle of his famous forebears, producing hauntingly aromatic wines at all three estates. He is, at heart, a farmer, and here he grows food for his family, in addition to grapes. Like all Reynaud vineyards, these are tended with the same organic methods, manually plowed, harvested much later than other producers and centered around a reverence for old-vine Grenache.

Chateau des Tours

Situated in an old house flanked on both sides by tall towers (hence “des Tours”), Château des Tours is Emmanuel’s own family estate, which he took over from his father, Bernard, in 1989.  The estate is located in Sarrians, Côtes-du-Rhône, just outside Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  A 40-hectare property of vines which grows Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Merlot and Counoise for red wine; Grenache and Clairette for white wine. Weighty, complex and savory, the wines produced here are among the most well regarded, sought-after bottles of the appellation

Château de Fonsalette

Just outside Châteauneuf-du-Pape, near the village of Lagarde-Paréol in the Côtes-du-Rhône appellation, Château de Fonsalette was purchased by Emmanuel’s grandfather, Louis Reynaud, in 1945. It holds 300 acres, 30 of which are planted with Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah for reds, and Grenache Blanc, Clairette and Marsanne for whites. The estate also produces wonderful olive oil. Quite simply, the three wines of Fonsalette — a blanc, made from Grenache, Clairette and Marsanne;  a rouge made from Grenache (50%), Cinsault (35%) & Syrah (15%) and a 100% Syrah, which is rare for the region — defy their appellation: They are among the best and most in-demand wines from Côtes-du-Rhône.  The grapes are vinified and sold at Rayas.

Château Rayas

Rayas is a small ten-hectare vineyard composed of three separate vineyards — Le Couchant, Le Levant and Le Coeur — Château Rayas occupies one of the most unique sites in the world. The estate is surrounded by towering pine trees (pignan in French) that monitor the airflow into the vineyards, and the vines are planted in very fine sand that regulates their temperature and maintains humidity around the roots. This seemingly magical sand creates its very own microclimate — and exceptionally elegant wines.

While 13 varietals are permitted in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Emmanuel uses only one for Rayas’ red wines: Grenache. For the whites, he uses Grenache Blanc and Clairette. Grapes come from the three vineyards, are vinified and aged separately in old barrels, then are blended to achieve Emmanuel’s vision for the vintage, always adhering to Château Rayas’ signature style. With a Pinot Noir–like flavor profile — kirsch, cherry, peat moss — coupled with a peppery Mediterranean flair that is distinctively “Southern France,” there is simply nothing like a bottle of Château Rayas. The vines are planted in the heart of the woods, in very poor, sandy soil producing wines with great finesse.  He makes two reds at this estate, Rayas Chateauneuf du Pape Reserve red and white and Pignan Chateauneuf du Pape Reserve, red only.

The wines we drank were all outstanding and complimented the food beautifully.

2013 Chateau des Tours Cotes du Rhone Blanc. Côtes du Rhône White made from 100% Grenache blanc.  Pale yellow hue with a bouquet of white fruit.  A full bodied wine with great balance and mouth feel.  A terrific bargain at $39.  Wine-Searcher.

2013 Domaine des Tours Vin de Pays de Vaucluse. This delicious red is a blend of  Grenache, Counoise, Syrah, Cinsault, Merlot.  A nose and palate of bright cherries, this was delicious and represents substantial value at $24.  Wine-Searcher.

2010 Chateau des Tours Vacqueyras. Blended from 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah, the wine displayed a spicy bouquet and a superbly balance peppery palate.  The wine finished with length and elegance.  $60.  Wine-Searcher.

2006 Chateau Rayas Cotes du Rhone Chateau de Fonsalette.  From a classic vintage, this was sublime, displaying a peppery and complex palate with a monster finish.   This wine sets the bar for Cotes du Rhone wines. $135.  Wine-Searcher.

2006 Chateau Rayas Chateauneuf-du-Pape Pignan Reserve. Pignan is the second wine of Chateau Rayas. However, because much of Pignan comes from their more northern vines, it can also be looked at as a unique brand. In some years, like 1990, Pignan is an amazing wine that while not at the level of Rayas, it’s still outstanding. In total, close to 20% of harvest goes into producing Pignan. In most years 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 of Pignan each year.

It is miles better than most other CdPs on the market. The wine showed brilliantlytonight.  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!  As one would expect, this wine commands a much higher tariff, $225.  Wine-Searcher.

A truly remarkable evening of wine from a master.  Thanks Jim for sharing it with us.


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Gentlemen's Holiday Lunch 2017

Two days before Christmas 10 wine loving buddies got together at Il Capriccio Ristorante in Whippany, NJ for our annual holiday lunch.  This tradition was started about 6 or 7 years ago by Tony.  Tony set two criteria for the luncheon:

1. Robert Parker rating of 95 points or higher
2. Wine-Searcher price of at least $250

1959 Huet Le Haut Lieu Vouvray Moelleux (Jack).  As always Huet wines never disappoint and they seem to live for ever.   Made from 100% Chenin Blanc, the Moelleux is sweeter than the Clos du Bourg, but less so than the Moelleux Premier Trie, which is specifically a desert wine.
The wine soared from the glass.  It possessed a gorgeous translucent yellow hue.  It was pristine and pure on the palate with a long elegant finish.  At 57 years of age, this wine has many years in front of it.

NV Cedric Bouchard Roses de Jeanne Côte de Béchalin Blanc de Noir Pinot Noir Champagne (Ian). Cédric Bouchard has become one of the fastest rising stars in Champagne. He began producing his own wines in 2000 under the label Rose de Jeanne.  In 2008 he was awarded the title as Champagne’s finest wine maker by Gault Millau. His philosophy borders on the revolutionary in Champagne, as he insists on bottling single vineyard, single varietal (Pinot Noir or Chardonnay), and single vintage cuveés rather than blending different sources to make a single cuvée. This is a highly unique concept in Champagne, where so many of the Grandes Marques have made their reputations for many centuries on the high art created in blending various wines and various vintages to make a consistently excellent bottle of bubbly year in and year out.  Today’s bottle is a non-vintage made exclusively from 2009 grapes and disgorged in 2016.  The fruit comes from a 1.5 hectare vineyard in the lieu-dit Cotes de Bachelin, consisting of 100% Pinot Noir. Cédric gives the grapes from this site the longest aging regimen of all his wines. This wine is unfined, unfiltered, and aged for 80 months.  It is an amazing Champagne that must be sipped from a large wine glass to appreciate the incredible depth and focus of the wine. Decanting his wines is always a good idea as they really open with air and time as this one did.  I did not enjoy the first sip, but within thirty minutes I was smitten by the complexity, balance and finish of the wine.  Truly a wine with soul!

2000 J.L. Chave Hermitage from magnum (Jack). Some experts feel that the greatest maker of Hermitage (100% Syrah) is Jean-Louis Chave (you will get no argument from me). The Chave family has been growing grapes at Hermitage since 1481. They have a reputation for making good wine in poor years, and excellent wine in good ones. They use low yielding vines (average age 60 years) and a late harvest to produce the ripest fruit, and there is virtually no intervention in the winemaking and bottling with no filtration. There are a dozen or so named vineyards in Hermitage, and Chave owns vines in most of them. They vinify each separately, which allows them to blend for greater complexity before bottling.

My last bottle of this was 6 years ago, and the wine was simply too young at the time.  Cellar time has been good to the wine.  The wine has entered the beginning of a drinking window that should last for a couple of decades.  Gorgeous terroir laden bouquet with terrific balance and focus on a palate of ripe black fruit.  Destined to be a monster in another 3 or 4 years.

2012 Santuvario Lozio Vino Rosso (Gino).  The wine is made by Ivano Barbaglia in Boca, a region of Northern Piedmont.  The wine is a blend 85% Nebbiolo/15% Vespolina. The farming is organic and the harvest is by hand. The fruit is destemmed and fermented with native yeasts in stainless steel tanks with a month-long maceration. The wine is aged in a single 300-liter oak barrel for three years, followed by a year in bottle. Production is but 100 cases in years that Ivano fells the grapes merit the wine.  It is one of the finest wines I have tasted this year (today was my second experience).  It possessed a gorgeous bouquet of red berries, with a seductive palate of white pepper that displayed terrific balance, complexity and a long and velvety finish.  The wine has the acidity to age for a couple of decades.

2014 Mondavi Reserve to Kalon Vineyard (Tony).  Served blind.  I had no idea what it was.  No one guessed California.  As for the wine, it was a good example why I do not buy or drink California wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignon.  The wine was completely one-dimensional with an insipid palate and zero finish.

2006 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino (Jeff). Superb!  In my opinion Gianfranco Soldera is the master of thes 100% Sangiovese wines, and this wine solidly supported my feelings.  I had the wine 3 years ago at a Soldera tasting and found it to be tight and a bit green but with great potential.  Today’s bottle, while still young, as matured quite a bit in the past three years.  The palate had marvelous balance, complexity and elegance.   The finish is still a bit short, but in a few more years this will be a magnificent wine…in my opinion.

1999 Beaucastel Hommage a Jacques Perrin (me) and 2001 Beaucastel Hommage a Jacques Perrin (Ian) were poured side by side. Beaucastel is one of the few wineries that blends all 13 permitted grape varietals in Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  The “Hommage” bottling is made only in exceptional vintages, and that means only when the Mourvedre grape reaches sufficient ripeness to merit a special bottling and thus the Hommage contains a higher proportion of Mourvedre.  I felt that both wines drank ok with the 1999 having a softer and slightly more elegant palate than the more fruit laden 2001.  The group was pretty much divided on their preference.

1996 Chateau Latour (Tony) was poured alongside a 1996 Chateau Lafite‐Rothschild (George). Two first growth Bordeaux that for me underscore the comments of wine importer Kermit Lynch regarding these first growths.  He writes in “Adventures on the Wine Route”, “As a Bordeaux proprietor, you do not even need a good winemaker…you need only have been included in the classification of 1855.  Most of the Bordeaux wine trade is quite happy keeping everybody’s eyes on labels instead of wine.”  My limited experience with Bordeaux, especially first growths, leaves me with the “I don’t get it” feeling.  These two did that again.  Some thought the Lafite was corked.  I didn’t.  I simply thought it was not a good wine.  I had similar feelings about the Latour.   These were very, very expensive wines that receive high critic scores and will continue to do so as long as the people who buy them keep their eyes on the labels.

1994 Dal Forno Amarone della Valpolicella (Emil). Dal Forno’s wines are usually over the top for me.  I find they lack the balance and complexity of Quintarelli.  This drank better than most I have had however.  It displayed more balance and elegance that usually.

2001 Chateau Climens (Gino).  This was superb.  Beautiful golden hue, palate of tropical fruit with good balance and complexity.

1975 Chateau d’Yquem (Joe).  I felt this bottle was off, which was a shame as this is a great year for Sauternes.  It lacked the depth, balance and complexity of the Climens.  Hopefully just an off bottle.

As my readers know I do not subscribe to the points rating system for wine.  For the curious my top wines were in order:

2006 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino – 95+, $600
1959 Huet Le Haut Lieu Vouvray Moelleux – 98, $350
2000 J.L. Chave Hermitage – 96; $650 (Magnum)
NV Cedric Bouchard Roses de Jeanne Côte de Béchalin Blanc de Noir Pinot Noir – 94, $120
2012 Santuvario Lozio Vino Rosso – not rated, $70.

My bottom wines:

2014 Mondavi Reserve to Kalon Vineyard – 95, $125
1996 Chateau Latour – 95, $800
1996 Chateau Lafite Rothschild – 98, $1,100
1975 Chateau d’Yquem – 98, $1,100

Fortunately, the wines were really secondary.  The company and lively conversation along with the excellent food made for a great afternoon.  You just can’t put a number or price tag on friendship.

Thanks Tony for putting it together.