It never rains but it pours – Rayas.
Curiously, until earlier this month I’d ever had Château Rayas. Curious because I have several good friends with substantial holdings of Rhône wines in their collections – and even one who (somewhat unusually) actually began his wine journey as a lover of everything Southern Rhône.
So – it came as a surprise when, out of the blue, I was offered two opportunities to drink what is reputed to be one of the world’s greatest red wines – in less than a fortnight. A happy twist of fate and one which turned out to be both extremely instructive and very, very delicious !
Rayas ‘Part One’ took place at 67 Pall Mall where they have the 2007 by the glass (amongst many other great, and reasonably priced offerings – I am now kicking myself pretty hard that I didn’t join at the onset). The very generous Pall Mall member who invited me had declared the 2007 to be great – and that he didn’t expect it to be surpassed this year either. Fighting talk I thought; given the nature of his collection and the opportunities to drink great wine he has over the course of a year….. I was duly sceptical: and duly confounded !
2007 Château Rayas (98+/100?)
Moderate ruby colour. No particular evolution at rim. Extraordinary scent that changed radically, over and over again in the glass. Initially I was reminded of the sweet malty-biscuit scent of Fuller’s brewery in full swing. Then the brewing/fermenting scent was swept away by intensely savoury Bovril and roasting liquor scents. A few minutes later; woodsmoke and charcoal swirling around the glass; a nose too almost too intense to be associated with wine. I remarked at this point “this is the best BBQ wine I’ve ever tasted” ~ which was true – but completely understates the dramatic impact of the scent of this wine. Then, a few more minutes on; civilisation was restored – plush red fruit overlaid with mocha and caramel was the key note.
On the palate, lush, voluptuous, layered – but not unbalanced or overtly alcoholic – pumping out creamy strawberry, cherry and rhubarb fruit, finishing hugely savoury with coffee, chocolate and a flavour I can only describe as “like the smell of charred embers from a bonfire……”
To my mind the most exciting Southern Rhône wine I’ve drunk; I’ve never tasted the 1990 but if it is indeed better than this, it must flirt with perfection…..
NB – Happily, my first Rayas experience was matched with 67 Pall Mall’s delicious lamb cooked two ways: cutlet grilled to perfection and slow cooked rump. I was very happy indeed.
Rayas ‘Part Deux’ was accompanied similarly carnivorously – with a fabulous char-grilled Rib-eye courtesy of Adam Handling at the Caxton Grill. The vintage (proferred by another exceptionally generous friend as ideally suited to a “light lunch for two” (?!)) on this occasion was the 1995…..
1995 Château Rayas (96/100)
Garnet colour, a touch of bricking at the rim.
A much more composed and harmonious nose than the kaleidoscopic 2007, but nonetheless exhibits some of the same elements; woodsmoke, roasting tin, red fruit and spice. Doesn’t have the sheer effusive power on the nose of the 2007 – is that a function of the vintage or just maturity? On both palate and nose, I am not at all sure I would have picked this blind as Southern Rhone – it has a purity and harmony that might well have encouraged me to assume it was Burgundy from a ripe, mature vintage ? I find none of the overt alcohol and farmyard notes I tend to associate with Châteauneuf-du-Pape. My lunch companion intimated that he had thought about bringing Rousseau Chambertin 1995 as a pairing (!) – it would have been interested to see just how Burgundian it might seem compared with the real-Pinot deal.
Is Rayas effectively the ‘first growth’ of the Southern Rhône ? Irrespective, this was another truly lovely bottle, perhaps fractionally overshadowed by the sheer exotic drama of the 2007.
So; Rayas – another genuine vinous landmark on my personal winescape. Happily (despite twenty plus years in the trade) my excitement at discovering a truly great wine is undiminished. And I think there are now more exciting wines out there than ever……