Let’s take a journey to the Rhone Valley, more precisely to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the most renowned appellation of the southern Rhone. This regions name translates to “the Pope’s new castle”, in reference to when the papal court occupied the nearby town of Avignon in the 14th century. Here, only eighteen varietals are permitted to grow. Wines from this appellation commonly consist of Grenache Noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre. A love and respect of the land is quite apparent, as there are more organic and biodynamic vineyards in Châteauneuf than any other region in France. Flourishing in the hot, dry climate of the southern Rhone, Grenache is a star here. This playful varietal is the second most widely planted grape in the world, producing fruity and floral, low tannic wines that are deceivingly seductive.
Situated in the heart of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape, reigns the legendary Chateau Rayas. Standing apart from any other estate in this appellation, Rayas has been producing spectacular and enigmatic wines since the late 1800’s. Maintaining century-old winemaking techniques, this historic domain prides itself on keeping the integrity of their grapes’ true essence. With fifty year-old barrels seasoned from past vintages, concrete vats and a lack of stainless steel tanks, the setting instantly transports one back in time.
Emmanuel Reynaud succeeded his revered uncle Jaques in 1997, and as winemaker now, he tends the to 29 acres of Grenache Noir and 2 acres of both Clairette and Grenache Blanc (white varietals that make up Rayas’ white blend). These vines struggle in their sandy soils bearing meager yields of roughly one ton of grapes per acre. Rayas’ low yielding, old vines, harvested later than most varietals, provide an ideal canvas for Reynaud to craft his distinguished wines.
Pignan is the second label the estate produces and is comprised from Grenache vines that are 30 years old. The 2006 Reserve Pignan is a wonderful example of the decadent rich and fruity wines that Châteauneuf produces. Although medium in color, there is no mediocrity when it comes to its flavors and aromas. The ripe cherry and floral notes found in the bouquet are sure to excite many. Upon first sip, the wine’s supple cherry elements shine through accompanied by hints of licorice, strawberries, clove and lavender. Pignan’s rich silky tannins are perfectly in sync with its ripe fruit and colorful acidity. Undoubtedly captivating, this wine is a true expression of Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s most regal producer. Be sure to try the 2006 Chateau Rayas Pignan and be prepared for its striking aromas and flavors to take you on your very own journey to the historic estate in which it was so lovingly crafted. cellar photo by Michael Davis