Hot on the tail of the '96 top Médoc event the Stockbroker organized, he hosted all the wine for a dinner featuring a vertical tasting of Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Réservé.
I am only a tiny bit familiar with this château, having tried only a very few vintages before, mainly from the Doc and other friends. I am, by no stretch of imagination, as knowledgable as the other participants as regards Rhône wines. What little I know is that:
Château Rayas is legend in southern Rhône, specifically, in Châteauneuf-du-Pape ("CdP" for brevity), where it is reputedly without peer. The Réservé line is, I understand, the château's top bottling.
Unlike most wines from CdP that use mainly, in descending proportions, grenache noir, syrah and mourvèdre (there are actually 13 allowable grape varieties in the CdP AOC, others being cinsaut, clairette, grenache blanc, roussanne and bourboulenc), Rayas uses virtually 100% grenache in its wines. In addition, it is distinguished by the absence in its vineyards of the layer of stones/pebbles called "galets".
I understand that in Bordeaux (north-west of the Rhône), the stones in the vineyards help ripening in that they retain the sun's warmth. I suppose, then, someone correct me if I am mistaken, that Rayas' owner/management does not see the need for this retained heat. Perhaps it is because they think it is already warm enough in Rayas' particular area of the southern Rhône Valley.
In any event, we taste what's in the glass, don't we?
1992 - Delicate body, sweetish hints of tea leaves developed later, old dark flowers, dried herbs (thyme is there), fine Spanish cedar. There is a discreetly pervasive suggestion of vegetative decay to whatever red berry-fruit is left that lends an air of nostalgia and whistfulness to the wine. Those looking for a big, boned, massively fruited wine had best look elsewhere. This is a barely medium-bodied at this point with cranberry notes atop a nicely rounded, darkly ripe red fruit underbelly. There is a bit of sharpness/tartness in the finish but soothed somewhat by nuances of lavender and violets.
Myself? I love old wines and, ironically, enjoy it when, due to the melding of flavors over time, I cannot find the words to break down the fruit flavors. This was my 1st Wine of the Flight, and 4th Wine of the Night.
1994 - Marginally fuller than the '92 with cranberry/raspberry over a mild ripe blackcurrant/cassis base. There are also nuances of old violets and decay in this but less pronounced than in the '92. The base fruit is not as nicely rounded. Finish a bit short.
Though this had comparatively more in body an ripeness than the '92, with fruit not nearly as tired, the '94, though competent, does not show as much character to me. It was my 4th Wine of the Flight, and 7th Wine of the Night.
1996 - Sweetish Spanish cedar over strawberry/cranberry/raspberry (in that order) with hints of dark chocolate slightly past mid-mouth and onward. Obviously more heat, heft and power than the first two wines with a better presence in the middle to boot. Masculine, confident, more accessible/user-friendly. The finish, though starts off with the confidence of the middle, puts on the brakes abruptly - abandoning the palate halfway down.
My 2nd Wine of the Flight, and 5th Wine of the Night.
2002 - The Doc and Eric R. told me that 2002 was generally supposed to be a vintage to actively avoid for Rhônes, though they liked this particular one, especially at its very affordable price (such price attributable to critics' disappointment with the vintage in general, most likely). With that in mind, I tried my best to be objective (I always do anyway, that's why I always prefer tasting blind).
Eucalyptus, thyme, cedar and lots of minerality in the nose. On the palate, mouth coating (but not heavy) and a bit of a medicinal theme to a comparatively (with the above) dark fruit-dominated character. There is a bit of tea leaf as well, but more discreet than in the '92. Suave mid-mouth and in the finish. I marked this my 3rd Wine of the Flight, and as my 6th Wine of the Night.
2001 - Whisper of iodine in the nose. Hot, racy but clean/pure fruit. great backbone. Penetrating flavors, lots of violets, dark fruit forward with cassis, slight kirsch. Full and confident. Exceptional push on the palate. My 3rd Wine of the Flight, and 3rd Wine of the Night.
1998 - Rich, ripe, minerally nose, dried thyme, hints of rosemary and anise, a touch medicinal, marginally less weight than the 2001 but livelier and firmer structure. My 2nd Wine of the Flight and 2nd Wine of the Night.
- 1985 (I believe we were pretty much unanimous in this choice)
- 1999 and 1994
As if these were not enough, the Stockbroker rounded off the dinner with generous pours of 1986 Château Climens - Though Barsac wines are not generally as rich and full as those from neighboring Sauternes, they seem, however, to be, more exuberant, racier and have more uplifting acidity. Climens, in my experience, is marked with more heft, breadth, extraction, complexity and expansiveness than other Barsacs - certainly much more than its neighboring châteaux, Caillou (to the north) and Doisy-Daëne (to the east); it is more like Doisy-Védrines (east-southeast) in terms of ripeness and extraction, but Climens' wines are more focused, complex and refined.
The 1986 affirms these general impressions: accented with lots of spicy, tangy botrytis, it is virtually full-bodied, expansively displaying perfumed layers of candied apricot, orange rind, crème brûlée, orange marmalade and vanilla. Pronounced middle, long finish, good balance. This is definitely the most opulent Barsac I've ever tried.
Many thanks, buddy. A rare and generous treat indeed.