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Chateau Rayas: The Importance
According to Robert Parker: “This is one of the mythical names of France… In addition to numerous cuvées of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Château Rayas produces top-notch Côtes de Rhônes from its sister estate, Fonsalette.” He has also described Rayas as “one of the world’s most distinctive and hedonistic wines” that “in great vintages… reaches a level of sumptuousness and extraordinary intensity, allied with an opulence in texture and flavour. It can even humble a great Bordeaux or Burgundy!”
Jeff Leve of The Wine Cellar Insider compares Rayas’ status in the Southern Rhône to that of the First Growths in Bordeaux. And as he puts it: “There are many knowledgeable wine lovers that feel Rayas is in fact the top wine in all of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.”
The unique and highly rated wines produced here have earned their place amongst the pantheon of great fine wines. Passed down through the generations of the Reynaud family, it is one of the Rhone’s most mysterious and singular estates with miniscule production. Back vintages of Château Rayas wines are almost non-existent.
Chateau Rayas: The Insight
Consistently high scores from the critics are a given for Château Rayas, but despite them being made in a very traditional manager, the wines are quite unique. As Robert Parker says: “These are cool-climate Châteauneufs from a relatively hot region.” Unusually Rayas’ vineyards in the northeast of the region are north-facing on sandy soils surrounded by forest, these cooler environs and moist, poor soils produce aromatic and deeply ageworthy wines with a silky texture.
Rayas’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape is their Grand Vin produced completely from Grenache at around 1,000 cases per year. Pignan, another Grenache, is the second wine at around 600 cases per year. A white Châteauneuf-du-Pape is produced from Grenache Blanc and Clairette at around 50 cases per year making it a very rare sighting. The wines are produced in such small quantities not only because of the low yields, but also because the vineyard is only 10-12 hectares. As a result, demand is extremely high.
Fonsalette and Château des Tours are also worthy of very serious consideration, Robert Parker advises: “Readers should note that in difficult vintages for Rayas, Fonsalette often produces a better wine because the micro-climate is warmer.” Fonsalette produces a Syrah, a red blend and a white and again the production is small. Rayas rather modestly describe Fonsalette as “a large property with a dozen or so hectares of vines”. Château des Tours in Vaucluse is in fact larger at 40 hectares producing reds and whites. It is also worth keeping an eye out for La Pialade; a blend from declassified grapes and young vines from Fonsalette, Pignan and Rayas.
Chateau Rayas: The Background
The Reynaud family began winemaking in 1880 with Albert Reynaud. He passed the estate to Louis Reynaud who increased the holdings and bought Château des Tours and Château Fonsalette. The idiosyncratic Jacques Reynaud took over in 1978 and according to Robert Parker produced “many spectacular wines” before his death in 1995. The winery passed to his nephew Emmanuel, and since 2005 the estate has climbed back the heady heights it hit under Jacques Reynaud and looks set potentially to surpass them. Jancis Robinson suggests that this is the case, saying: “the wines, both whites and reds, are still truly exceptional.” Now based in Pignan, though their original site was outside of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC, Château Rayas was one of the first estates in the region to bottle and sell their own wine, making it a veritable Rhône legend.
The methods employed are according to Robert Parker almost the “antithesis of modern day wine-making. No stainless steel, no temperature controls, no new oak, and no oenologists are to be found in the Rayas cellar.” They are fermented in cement, aged in antique barrels and foudres, bottled unfiltered and unfined. Jancis Robinson is not overly complimentary of the cellars - with their bare earth and ancient barrels - but loves the wines: “The greatest shock of all is how pure and fresh are the wines that come out of these dusty, cobwebby containers. They taste like the elixir of life, despite apparently having been raised in Miss Havisham's boudoir.”
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