Chateau Rayas Chateaneuf-du-Pape Reserve 2005
According to Stephen Tanzer, "Emmanuel Reynaud has quickly shown himself to be a worthy caretaker of this fabled estate's superb holdings and a flexible, non-interventionist vinifier." A young Rayas displays a grip of fruit and tannins, but it's born with a surprising midpalate fatness -- what the French call "gras." In top years, the wine has the staying power to improve just as much as some of France's finest crus. It has been said that Rayas can transcend, in top years, its Southern Rhône roots to achieve the finesse and ethereal balance of a velvety Pinot Noir.
Rayas' rustic look not only reflects the owners' dislike for the trendy, it advertises their commitment to tradition. This philosophy comes through in the wine: In bad or good vintages, it tastes genuine. In a world of sameness, the Reynaud family makes a wine that's idiosyncratic even by the local standards of Châteauneuf. Rayas is unusual because its vineyards face mostly north (less heat, thus more finesse). It's also unusual because the wine is 100% Grenache. (Rayas has 27 acres planted to this varietal.) It helps that the vines are relatively old -- between 15 and 60 years, according to Emmanuel.
Finally, Rayas harvests late, sometimes very late. "That's the game we've always played in the family: We want ripe fruit, and we'll pick late if necessary," said Emmanuel. "You must know how to take risks. To win, you must be ready to lose."
Critical AcclaimAll Vintages
Famous for its full-bodied, seductive and spicy reds with flavor and aroma characteristics reminiscent of black cherry, baked raspberry, garrigue, olive tapenade, lavender and baking spice, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the leading sub-appellation of the southern Rhône River Valley. Large pebbles resembling river rocks, called "galets" in French, dominate most of the terrain. The stones hold heat and reflect it back up to the low-lying gobelet-trained vines. Though the galets are typical, they are not prominent in every vineyard. Chateau Rayas is the most obvious deviation with very sandy soil.
According to law, eighteen grape varieties are allowed in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and most wines are blends of some mix of these. For reds, Grenache is the star player with Mourvedre and Syrah coming typically second. Others used include Cinsault, Counoise and occasionally Muscardin, Vaccarèse, Picquepoul Noir and Terret Noir.
Only about 6-7% of wine from Châteauneuf-du-Pape is white wine. Blends and single-varietal bottlings are typically based on the soft and floral Grenache Blanc but Clairette, Bourboulenc and Roussanne are grown with some significance.
The wine of Chateauneuf-du-Pape takes its name from the relocation of the papal court to Avignon. The lore says that after moving in 1309, Pope Clément V (after whom Chateau Pape-Clément in Pessac-Léognan is named) ordered that vines were planted. But it was actually his successor, John XXII, who established the vineyards. The name however, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, translated as "the pope's new castle," didn’t really stick until the 19th century.
With bold fruit flavors and accents of sweet spice, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre form the base of the classic Rhône Red Blend, while Carignan, Cinsault and Counoise often come in to play. Though they originated from France’s southern Rhône Valley, with some creative interpretation, Rhône blends have also become popular in other countries. Somm Secret—Putting their own local spin on the Rhône Red Blend, those from Priorat often include Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. In California, it is not uncommon to see Petite Sirah make an appearance.