France Wine

The red wines of Château Rayas, Tours and Fonsalette

Montmartre, Paris: March 2023

Château Rayas is one of the most revered and sought-after estates in the southern Rhône Valley, producing wines that are unlike any other in the region. The estate is run by Emmanuel Reynaud, who inherited it from his uncle Jacques Reynaud, a legendary figure in Châteauneuf-du-Pape history. Since 1997, Emmanuel continues the tradition of making wines with minimal intervention, using organic farming, whole-cluster fermentation, native yeasts, and old oak foudres.

Table of contents
1. Understanding Château Rayas2. Oenology and viticulture3. The other domains
4. List of all the cuvées5. Tasting Rayas6. Tasting Château des Tours

Their holdings consists of three domains: Château Rayas, Château de Fonsalette, and Château des Tours. Each domain produces wines with distinct character and expression, but they all share a common thread of elegance, complexity, and aromatic intensity. The wines are made from a variety of grapes, including Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Grenache Blanc and Clairette.

Understanding Rayas

Rayas’ vineyards (Le Levant, Le Coeur, Le Couchant). Source: The wonderful documentary1 from lotelduvin.

What makes Château Rayas so unique and special is its terroir. The estate is located northeast of the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, surrounded by forests. The vineyards are north-facing and planted on sandy soils that are devoid of the typical galets (round alluvial rocks polished by the flow of the Rhône river) that cover most of the appellation. The red iron-rich sandy soils provide excellent drainage and promote the growth of deeper roots, while the north exposure preserves freshness and acidity. Moreover, the sands are not effective at retaining heat compared to the galets found in most of the region. These cooler temperatures allow Emmanuel to harvest in October, over a month or two later than any other producer in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It remains a question to us what type of bedrock forms these soils. From our tasting it feels like they might have a high proportion of limestone, which adds a racy acidity and finesse to the tannins.

The wines of Château Rayas are often described as atypical for Châteauneuf-du-Pape. They are not powerful or opulent, but rather delicate and refined. They have a Burgundian sensibility, with silky textures and floral aromas. They are also remarkably age-worthy, developing nuances of truffle, leather and spices over time.

Emmanuel Reynaud in his cellar. Source: lotelduvin.

Emmanuel Reynaud is not a man who seeks fame or publicity. He prefers to avoid visitors and work quietly in his vineyards and cellar. Rather than following trends or fashions, Reynaud respects the legacy of his ancestors and the identity of his terroir. His cellar may look rustic and dusty, but it is a living and symbiotic environment for his winemaking. There, he cultivates an equilibrium between bacteria, yeasts, moulds and insects that protect his wine from faults and create the optimal conditions for fermentation and ageing. 

Oenology and viticulture

Wines are fermented using ambient yeasts and whole bunches (partially pressed) in stainless steel tanks. Unlike many producers in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, he minimises the extraction by limiting the number of remontages to once a day, resulting in more of an infusion that typically lasts two weeks. This method yields a wine that is lighter in colour than the regional average.

Malolactic fermentation is allowed to complete naturally during the élevage. As Reynaud detests the flavour of oak in his wines, he only uses very old oak demi-muids or foudres of 450 and 600 litres, some dating back to the First World War and acquired by his grandfather. These barrels are diligently maintained and always kept full to prevent the wood from drying out and ensure their longevity. Once fermentation is complete, the wine is stored in steel tanks. It remains there until the foudres are emptied from the previous vintage. He seldom purchases replacements; however, when necessary, only used demi-muids that are at least 10 years old are selected. These are first used at Domaine des Tours, and only after a minimum of 20 years do they move to the cellars of Rayas.

The use of SO2 is not a taboo here, with modest quantities added at both the harvest and just before bottling. CO2 is not used for preservation, and any remaining CO2 from the fermentation is actively degassed before the wine is bottled.

Most significantly, he prefers to age his wine at the domaine for several years, releasing it only when it is ready to be enjoyed. For instance, Château Rayas and the Vacqueyras Château des Tours Grande Réserve are only released at least 10 years after the harvest. Specifically for Rayas, he recommends consumers to start drinking only after 20 to 25 years to let it unveil all its magic.

However, Reynaud contends that the most critical aspect of his winemaking is viticulture2. The vines are traditionally trellised in a gobelet style, typical of the region. In Rayas, the oldest date from the 1940s, but the average age is around 40 years old. The poor sandy soils are tough on these plants. Since the 1990s, after the death of Emmanuel’s uncle Jacques, they have been replanting approximately every five years using a massale selection from their domaine. In fact, the low levels of clay and hummus of these soils constrain them to much lower planting densities than usual – 2,500 vines per hectare, significantly less than the 11,000 vines per hectare found in the fertile soils of Romanée-Conti. The yields are around 5 to 15 hectolitres per hectare, when in Romanée-Conti they range between 35 to 49.

During the summer, the soil is painstakingly kept clear of grass and weeds to eliminate competition for water. The estate uses no pesticides or herbicides. Harvesting occurs as late as possible, sometimes extending into October at Rayas, to ensure maximum phenolic ripeness. The harvest is conducted by individual plots, regardless of the age of the vines, and each plot is vinified separately. Depending on the vintage, the proportion of plots used in the final assemblage may vary.

Château des Tours and Château de Fonsalette

Both domains are owned and run by Emmanuel Reynaud with equal care and philosophy. However, their terroirs do differ.

Château des Tours.

Whereas Rayas is fully devoted to viticulture, Château des Tours is a polyculture including forests, olive trees and grain crops apart from vines. Historically, the majority of the grapes were sold to a cooperative until 1989, when Emmanuel and his father, Bernard, built a cellar to begin processing their grapes in-house. Today, Emmanuel’s son Benoît undertakes the majority of the work at the domaine. Furthermore, since 2020, the castle itself operates as a holiday cottage, managed by Emmanuel’s brother.

Located in Sarrians, within the Vacqueyras appellation, Château des Tours comprises 45ha of vines across three main plots: the plateau, the décroché and the plaine. The plateau is composed of sandy soils with some scattered galets, representing a terroir more typical of the appellation. This plot yields the warmest fruit expressions of the three plots and is bottled as Château de Tours Côtes-du-Rhône. Here, 70% of the vines are Grenache, with the remaining 30% being a mixture of Cinsault and Syrah.

Château des Tours. Source: lotelduvin.

Décroché is on a steep slope with sandy soils. Like at Rayas, these conditions are ideal for Grenache grapes, which constitute 80% of the parcelle. With most of the vines dating back to the 1920s, this plot is considered the best of Château des Tours by the Reynauds. Previously bottled under the Vacqueyras appellation until 2014, it is now labelled ‘Côtes-du-Rhône Grande Réserve’. We have heard several theories about why the wine was taken out of the Vacqueyras AOP, though we cannot confirm the validity of any of them:

  1. The wine is too pale for Vacqueyras AOP standards.
  2. The wine sometimes exhibits some volatile acidity, which the Vacqueyras AOP deems a fault.
  3. Modifications in the land registry excluded some key parts of the plot from the Vacqueyras AOP.

La plaine is the flattest plot down the slope, and consequently has heavier soils, with more clay and silt. Here, the vineyards are primarily planted with Cinsault vines, along with some Grenache and Counoise. The wines from this region are sold under the designation Vin de Pays de Vaucluse and carry the name Domaine des Tours instead of Château. 

Overall, the wines are slightly fruitier than those of Rayas, with a fine texture but have slightly less potential for ageing. The more fertile plots with clay even allow for the planting of Merlot. Nevertheless, we believe this region is less suitable for varietals like Merlot, which can become overly opulent in hot conditions.

On the other hand, Château de Fonsalette (in Lagarde-Paréol, Côtes-du-Rhône appellation) is a vast estate of 120ha, of which only 12ha are dedicated to vineyards. The rest is covered by forests and olive trees that enrich the biodiversity of the land. Its gravelly soils feature some sand but also some galets, which are mostly absent in the other domains. The wines are thus more structured and savoury, although this can also be attributed to the use of Cinsault in the assemblage. They are vinified in the cellars of Château Rayas, whereas Château des Tours is vinified in its own domain in Sarrians.

Cuvées and assemblages

A list of the cuvées and their corresponding assemblage based on the wonderful retro website of Rayas. Yes! They have a website!

Château Rayas (Châteauneuf-du-Pape):

Rouge : Grenache (100%)

Blanc : Grenache (50%) et Clairette (50%)

Pignan (Châteauneuf-du-Pape):

Grenache (100%)

Pialade (Côtes-du-Rhône):

Grenache (80%), Cinsault (15%), Syrah (5%)

This is simply a reference, since it’s composition varies every year. It’s mostly made from young vines from Fonsalette and declassified wine from Pignan and Rayas.

Château de Fonsalette (Côtes-du-Rhône):

Rouge : Grenache (50%), Cinsault (35%), Syrah (15%)

Syrah: 100% Syrah

Blanc : Grenache (80%), Clairette (10%), Marsanne (10%)

Château des Tours:

Vacqueyras Rouge: Grenache (80%), Syrah (20%)
Since 2014, the Vacqueyras has been declassified to Côtes-du-Rhône and bottled labelled like the Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge with the addition of Grande Réserve in red.

Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge: Grenache (65%), Cinsault (15%), Syrah (20%)

Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc: Grenache (100%)

Domaine des Tours:

Vin de Pays de Vaucluse Rouge : Grenache, Counoise, Syrah, Cinsault, Merlot

Vin de Pays de Vaucluse – Merlot: 100% Merlot

Vin de Pays de Vaucluse Blanc : Clairette (100%)

Les Tours (IGP): Grenache (100%)


Rosé : Grenache, Cinsault

A tasting of the reds of Reynaud

A few days ago, we had the privilege of participating in a tasting event in Montmartre, hosted by Théodore Valette. He presented us with eight wines crafted by Emmanuel Reynaud, along with two other wines from the southern Rhône for comparison.

The wines had been uncorked eight days prior to the event and then recorked. Then 24h before tasting, the bottle was left uncorked. All wines were tasted blind.

Château Rayas – La Pialade 2019
Nose:Slight volatile acidity in the nose, but it blows off. Aromatic nose of dried flowers, pomegranate and fresh sour cherries. Apparently 8 days ago it felt dead, very restrained.
Palate:Palate is driven by pomegranate and ripe cranberries showing a cooler fruit profile. The midpalate has a granite-like minerality that reminds us of Beaujolais. Long finish of fruit, black pepper and five spice.
Structure:High tangy acidity, medium grainy tannins, medium body, high alcohol.

Moulin de la Gardette – Gigondas 2010
Nose:More oxidised nose. Saucisson sec, crushed black pepper and dried cherries.
Palate:Dried dark cherries. Warm climate character. The midpalate shows black pepper and lots of leather. Long powerful finish of raisins and meat. Heavy.
Structure:High alcohol, crisp acid, powdery high tannins, full body.

Chateau des Tours (Grande Réserve) 2014
Nose:Very pretty and aromatic nose. Medium intensity. Very precise aromas of roses and red cherries.
Palate:Attack of warm climate red cherries. It feels like it’s close to being jammy, but it’s not, it’s fresh! Midpalate not as concentrated, but it reveals some very delicate notes of white pepper and dried roses that linger through the finish.
Structure:High alcohol, crisp racy acid, medium body, med powdery tannins. Very long finish.

Domaine des Tours – Merlot 2004
Nose:Medium aromatic notes of raisined blackberries, leather and even a touch of soy sauce.
Palate:Dark blackberries in the palate showing a bit of fatigue. The midpalate shows some spices and dried herbs: sage and tobacco. Overall it’s heavy and lacks balance.
Structure:High alcohol, full body, crisp, high chewy tannins. Long finish.

Château de Fonsalette – Syrah 2007
Nose:Wow. Intensely aromatic. Precise notes of blue flowers, chrysanthemum and jasmine. Upon swirling, the classic notes of cool climate Syrah: blueberry, brambles and black pepper.
Palate:Attack of blueberry and blackberries. Very concentrated. The midpalate shows tons of freshly crushed black pepper, which continuous all the way through the finish. The notes of flowers turn more into a eucalyptus note in the palate.
Structure:Racy crisp acid, medium powdery-velvety tannins, medium body, medium alcohol. Very long finish.

Domaine Charvin – Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2009
Nose:Medium intensity. Raisined cherries and leather. As it opens up, notes of dried violets appear.
Palate:Strawberry and leather! What? One of the freshest Châteauneuf-du-Pape we have tasted (apart from Rayas’). The midpalate is broad and fruity. It finishes with leather and cedar notes, as well as a touch of black pepper.
Structure:Chewy high tannins, crisp, high alcohol, full body. Long finish.

Château Rayas – Pignan 2013
Nose:This is among the most beautiful bouquets we have smelled in a wine. Intensely aromatic and floral. Precise and layered notes of rose petals, rose hip, strawberry, red cherries, licorice and violets.
Palate:Such precise note of ripe straweberries in their prime of the season. This is Pinot Noir transformed into Grenache. Huge concentration. The midpalate shows a minerality that feels from limestone in nature (notes of crushed rocks, fine firm tannin, racy acid). This is superb, so alluring. Powerful in aromas, yet light. Racy and complex.
Structure:Medium alcohol (felt when tasting blind, actually 15%), medium body, velvety medium tannins, crisp racy acid. Extremely long finish.

Château des Tours – Vacqueyras 2001
Nose:Nose is similar in character and profile to Pignan 2013, but with a more restrained intensity and certainly carrying more age. Ripe strawberries.
Palate:Darker fruit in the palate: ripe blackberries, but good acid to balanced. The fruit shows more raisined, but not fatigued. There is a vibrant minerality, with clear iodine flavours. The finish, spiced and with dried herbs, evokes the Provençal garrigue.
Structure:High alcohol, full body, high powdery tannins, crisp. Long finish.

Château Rayas – Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2005
Nose:Very aromatic, but more muted than Pignan 2013. Precise notes of pomegranate and dried flowers. But as it opens, they become precisely like ripe cranberries.
Palate:Attack of ripe cranberries, almost warm in character. Tremendous concentration. As it opens the character becomes dominated by sour cherries and leather in the midpalate, which reminds us of a great floral Sangiovese. Less mineral than the Vacqueyras 2001, more fruity and pleasant. The finish reveals back those dried flower aromas accompanied this time by very enticing white pepper notes. This wine has such a concentration that it feels like it can keep giving more an more over a long period of time. Tasting the bottle as it evolves would be best.
Structure:Medium alcohol (felt when tasting blind, actually 15%), medium body, velvety ripe medium tannins, crisp racy acid.

Château de Fonsalette 2012
Nose:A touch of volatile acidity with some cured meat over dark cherries from a warm climate.
Palate:This shows in the attack as ripe cherries and cranberries, but with a good level of freshness. The midpalate adds a note of black pepper which lingers in the finish along dried herbs: aromas of garrigue.
Structure:High acidity, velvety medium tannins, high alcohol and full bodied. Long finish.

A tasting of Château des Tours

Update – April 2024

Similar to last year, Théodore Valette organised a tasting, this time centred around the wines of Château des Tours. Here we had the chance to taste two white wines from the Reynauds as well. 

All wines were tasted blind, served in sets of two to compare against each other.

The red wines had been opened one day prior to the event. The white wines were opened 3h hours before the tasting.

Château des Tours – Les Tours Grenache Blanc 2019
Released at 5 years old.
Nose:Somewhat muted, medium intensity. The bouquet is underscored by distinct notes of beeswax and peach, opening up to white flowers.
Palate:Markedly ripe, with a noticeable deficiency in acidity, which fails to offer the necessary counterbalance. Dominated by robust flavours of nectarine, swiftly giving way to astringent beeswax characteristics in the midpalate, reminiscent of a Roussanne.
Structure:Medium acidity, dry, high alcohol, full bodied. Long floral finish.

Château des Tours – Grande Réserve Blanc 2014
Made with a selection of the best Clairette and the best Grenache blanc. An assemblage 50-50% Clairette and Grenache blanc, similar to the white Rayas. Released at 10 years old.
Nose:Very aromatic. Exuberant nose with ripe, verging on overripe, peach. As the wine aerates, honeyed notes intensify, evolving into expressions of remarkable purity, precision, and clarity.
Palate:Rich concentrated attack, yet the body is marginally lighter than the 2019 Les Tours, achieving a more balanced equilibrium. The attack carries precise aromas of roasted peach and apricot, transitioning seamlessly into the midpalate with notes of summer flowers, rendered with exceptional purity.
Structure:Crisp (lower side of crisp) acid, medium alcohol, medium body, dry. Very long finish.

We continued with the reds. It was surprising to find such consistent acidity levels across the line-up.

Domaine des Tours – Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge 2020
Made by Emmanuel’s son, Benoît, with a lighter extraction. Pale ruby colour.
Nose:Aromatic nose with red fruits and currants, intertwined with subtle earthy undertones. As it opens, an accent of white pepper emerges.
Palate:Light and perfumed version of a Grenache-dominant blend, with medium-low concentration. The attack and midpalate show ripe red currants and floral undertones. Commendable freshness, feels lighter in alcohol than declared.
Structure:Crisp, silky tannins, high alcohol, light body. Medium finish.

Domaine des Tours – Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge 2019
Nose:Markedly darker than 2020, deep ruby. Aromatic. Notes of rosemary, leather underpinned by ripe, yet restrained dark cherries. Developed notes of cooked or dried cherry alongside some cedar.
Palate:Very concentrated, different style to the 2020. The attack of ripe dark cherries transitions into a midpalate generous in garrigue and spices that linger through the finish. With some air, the finish shines with pure notes of white pepper.
Structure:Crisp, medium powdery tannins, high alcohol, full body. Very long finish.

Château des Tours – Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge 2019
Nose:Aromatic nose similar to the Vaucluse 2019 tasted above. Notes of restraint red cherries with notes dominated by leather. Contrary to what Benoît say about the Côtes-du-Rhône being warmer than the Vaucluse, it feels cooler and a tad simpler.
Palate:Shows warmer. The attack comes with cherries and those ripe notes that one associates with classic Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Though it lacks the concentration found in the Vaucluse, it offers a similar spiced complexity, leading to black pepper in the finish.
Structure:Crisp, medium powdery tannins, high alcohol, full body. Very long, but less than the Vaucluse 2019 bottling.
Château Rayas – La Pialade 2019
Nose:Very aromatic notes of sous bois and truffle. There is a touch of volatile acidity, but also Pinot Noir-like red cherries. Complex and alluring, showing beautiful tertiary notes.
Palate:This is indeed a properly aged Grenache. Beautiful perfumed and like, but with the concentration of a great Pinot Noir. The attack shows red cherries, with some restraint, with some moderate and not overly showy sous bois and wet gravel towards the midpalate. The truffle notes become more intense here and linger through the finish. Will it age for much longer? Probably not, we’d say its close to its peak.
Structure:High acidity, medium silky tannins, medium body, medium alcohol.

Château des Tours – Côtes-du-Rhône Grande Réserve Rouge 2015
Nose:Aromatic. It feels more savoury than the regular Côtes-du-Rhône, with plenty of cedar and that characteristic garrigue notes from Vacqueyras. There is a delicateness here that we could not find in the 2019 Côtes-du-Rhône. It feels very Pinot-like, with lots of savoury notes that meld into the red cherries in the attack.
Palate:Again there is a balance here that hides the 15% with freshness. Extremely long finish with leather, garrigue and black pepper.
Structure:Medium powdery tannins, tending to silky, crisp racy acid, high alcohol, medium body.

Domaine des Tours – Merlot-Syrah 2010
Nose:Aromatic. Very ripe nose, but not overly ripe. Dominated by cooked plums, some mild notes leather and a good amount of tobacco. Less precise than the monovarietal of Merlot.
Palate:More concentration – clearly Merlot driven even when tasted blind. There is Merlot’s characteristic ripeness and plushness of plums with the tobacco showing only in the finish along with some black pepper.
Structure:Medium very silky tannins, crisp acid, high alcohol, full body. Long finish.

Domaine des Tours – Merlot 2010
Nose:Very aromatic. Beautifully perfumed notes of ripe plums, with the classic notes of cigar box showing exuberantly. This is classy, much better than the 2004 tasted last year.
Palate:The palate is plusher, purer with a clear expression of ripe plums or damson. The breadth in the midpalate is indulgent and opulent, slowly melting into tobacco and cigar box towards the finish.
Structure:Medium-low silky tannins, crisp acid, high alcohol, very full body. Extremely long finish.

Château des Tours – Côtes-du-Rhône 2004
Nose:Aromatic nose full of leather and mild red cherry notes. It feels ripe but well managed warmth. The herbal notes are not that apparent.
Palate:The palate delivers a good concentration, but less than the 2019. It still feels nimble, with the only clear hints of age to be found in the slightly brownish hue and the sediment. The attack is driven by red cherries, evolving into dried red cherries from midpalate through to a finish marked by leather and garrigue.
Structure:Low melting tannins, crisp acid, high alcohol, full body. Very long finish.
  1. Truly worth watching.
  2. Don’t all of the good winemakers insist on this?


  1. Hello

    Very nice writeup about the Chateau Rayas Tours, seems like a very fun and knowledgeable experience. May i know how did you get the reservation on chateau rayas wine tasting?


    1. Hello Erick,

      Thanks for the nice comment. Unfortunately Emmanuel Reynaud rarely accepts visits, preferring to dedicate his time to winemaking or the vineyards. I was simply lucky to find out that Théodore Valette was organising an impromptu tasting in Paris of all of the reds from the Reynaud domaines. I’m afraid that chance, coincidences or great contacts in the wine industry are the only ways to enjoy such a tasting.

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