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.

Understanding RayasThe other domainsTasting RayasList of all the cuvées

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 forest. 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. Wines are fermented in concrete vats and as he detests the flavour of oak in his wines, he only uses very old oak foudres. Some date back to the First World War, acquired by his grandfather. Most noticeably when compared to his peers in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the extraction in the wine is kept low by minimizing remontage.

Château des Tours and Château de Fonsalette

Château des Tours. Source: lotelduvin.

Both domains are run by Emmanuel Reynaud with the same care and philosophy. However, they differ from each other in terroir.

Château des Tours comprises 40ha of vines on clay-marl soils with some sand. The wines are slightly fruitier with a fine texture but have slightly less potential for ageing. The more fertile plots with clay even allow for the planting of Merlot. Still, in our opinion, this is not a great region for a varietal that can easily become very opulent in hot conditions.

On the other hand, Château de Fonsalette 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 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 the same domain.

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.

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:

Rouge : Grenache (100%)

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

Pignan:

Grenache (100%)

Pialade:

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

Château de Fonsalette:

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%)

Rouge : Grenache (65%), Cinsault (15%), Syrah (20%)

Blanc : Grenache (100%)

Domaine des Tours:

Vaucluse Rouge : Grenache, Counoise, Syrah, Cinsault, Merlot

Merlot: 100% Merlot

Vaucluse Blanc : Clairette (100%)

Parisy:

Rosé : Grenache, Cinsault

Footnotes
  1. Truly worth watching.

2 Comments

  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?

    Regards

    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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