2019 saw us take our special event show on the road to Europe. There were two extraordinary weeks in Paris and Piedmont where wine and food came together on the highest level. ‘April in Paris’ kicked off this new initiative, and there were five magical meals over the course of one week in April. While every meal was literally extraordinary, there was one evening that was more historically significant than the others.

Emmanuel Reynaud is the genius behind Chateau Rayas, the Chateauneuf du Pape that is more than just Chateauneuf du Pape. When I visited him a year plus ago at his vineyards, I learned about the unique microclimate and soil that makes Rayas so special and the greatest expression of Grenache in the world. It is truly one of the world’s greatest and most unique wines.

Emmanuel is also a reclusive man and not very responsive. He is incredibly intelligent and engaging when you are with him, but difficult to engage in the first place. We invited him for this special vertical we had acquired, and we wanted to do it in Paris for our first event there. We were doing it at Taillevent, and he now knew the Paradox and I after some quality time together, and our introduction came from none other than Martine Saunier. Of course, he would accept our invitation. How could he not? These verticals don’t grow on trees, and it was just a quick trip on the TGV to Paris for such a rare retrospective. Well, as winter turned into Spring, we still had no confirmation of his attendance after some regular enquiries, so we had to break out the big gun: Martine. Martine gave Emmanuel a lecture he could not refuse! It was her 50th Anniversary working with the Chateau after all, and he was told he had to be there. And he was there. I told you when Martine speaks, people listen! Now the stage was officially and properly set for this historical vertical with both Martine and Emmanuel at the legendary Taillevent in Paris. There were 26 vintages on the menu. Game on!

2009 Chateau Rayas (97)
2008 Chateau Rayas (95)
2007 Chateau Rayas (97+)
2006 Chateau Rayas (94)

The 2009 had a sweet nose with classic framboise. It was very rich and concentrated with that Rayas kink. The Big Tuna noted its ‘scented’ qualities and ‘variety of roses.’ Emmanuel noted its ‘puissance’ or power, and Alex deemed it his favorite. There was a common theme out of the gate with the wines showing great typicity of rose petals and sweet richness. The 2008 was tighter, showing a harder vintage and more alcohol. It was stonier on the nose with more minerals and lots of acidity. The wine finished dry and long in a similarly stony way. The Big Tuna found ‘sarsaparilla soda/root beer,’ and he preferred how the vintage was ‘more integrated, lighter and ready to drink now.’ The Paradox noted, ‘rosewater.’ The 2007 bowled us over with its sexy perfume. It was rich and full-bodied with much more acidity than the first two wines, and Emmanuel agreed. This was super impressive with so much more oil in the mouth. “SO RICH,” I wrote. The 2006 had the sweetest nose, but it showed a little dryly on the palate. There was more strawberry to it, and it showed a lot like the ’08 but with more acid.

2005 Chateau Rayas (96+)
2004 Chateau Rayas (92)
2003 Chateau Rayas (96)

The second flight began with the very stony 2005, which showed lots of alcohol and acidity in the nose. It was stone city, with ceramics, white pepper, black raspberry and bread soaked in oil aromas. It was rich and wide on the palate, still showing a bit of baby fat. I was all about its oiliness; the wine was so dense but without its cut at the moment. The Big Tuna found ‘cedar’ and ‘true sauvage.’ It was a wild vintage that just wasn’t quite as accessible yet as many other vintages. I wrote a capital, ‘YES!’ That’s usually a good sign. The Caps were coming out often and early lol. The 2004 had a nice nose but was clearly more reticent, showing more curds and whey and even a touch of yeastiness. It was a bit dirty on the palate, and I felt this was a vintage to enjoy sooner rather than later. The 2003 was from a sunny and very hot year, but it was still a great example of the vintage, and one of the best 2003s I can remember in all of France. This was the first vintage we tasted that showed a balance of fruit versus the alcohol. We were starting to reach a next level of maturity, it seemed. The wine was exceptionally fresh especially given the vintage, fleshy and delicious.

2002 Chateau Rayas (92)
2001 Chateau Rayas (94)
2000 Chateau Rayas (95)

The third flight commenced with the 2002 which Emmanuel found to be the ‘most agreeable right now.’ It had that signature rose again, red fruits and a bit of milk. Emmanuel shared how 2002 was a tricky vintage with ‘a lot of rain, we were literally washed out by water.’ A lot of winemakers lost everything. It still showed a nice structure with a lot of spice, leather and blacker than usual fruits. Emmanuel remarked that he had ‘waited and waited for the mistral’ winds, and some grapes lost skin, others had slight botrytis and some raisinated on the vine, but he was able to salvage the vintage. The 2001 was deeper and darker, full of blackberry jam. It was a bit dry, heavy and a little shut down à la the ’05, but it didn’t have as much going on. The Big Tuna found some ‘burnt coffee’ amongst the tight, spicy white pepper flavors. The freshness in the 2000 was impressive. There was great spice, pepper, cedar and open red fruits. It was rich and tasty, and I loved its red fruits with a touch of brick. The 2000 was a great man cave of rich, red fruit flavors.

1999 Chateau Rayas (93)
1998 Chateau Rayas (94)
1997 Chateau Rayas (94)
1996 Chateau Rayas (95)

The fourth flighted opened with the 1999, which was sweeter and kinkier with more black fruits in its jammy nose. It stayed jammy on the palate, with sweet, black sugary flavors, verging on molasses. Jetski dismissed this vintage as ‘an outlier,’ but it did get a little better with air, but it was still a bit yeasty and earthy. The 1999 was a bit of a bruiser. The 1998 was also jammy, but more in the classic red, strawberry way with nice framboise to match. It was elegant and light on its feet, dancing in the glass. It still had a touch of ‘burnt sugar’ to it, but I dug its tasty, sweet, jamminess at first. It got a touch (too) sweeter in the glass, though. The 1997 showed red forest and nice desert aromas backed by sturdy earth. It was excellent with nice ‘grilled meats’ per The Big Tuna, and Emmanuel found it ‘polite’ and reserved. I liked its white pepper notes as I kept comparing it to the ’98, but the 1997 was less sweet and lighter in a good way. The 1996 was a great return to freshness and was quickly compared to the ’08. It was all about the acidity and showed the most balance in this flight. This was the final vintage made by legendary Jacques Reynaud, Emmanuel’s uncle, but Emmanuel bottled it.

1995 Chateau Rayas (95)
1994 Chateau Rayas (DQ)
1992 Chateau Rayas (95)
1990 Chateau Rayas (98)

The fifth flight brought us to the sweet and elegant 1995, which had great purity. It was full of strawberries, fresh cream and a honeyed, sweet goodness. Martine quickly DQ’d the 1994 as it was corked. We came back in full force with the smoky, stony 1992. It had nice spice and fabulous intensity. It was so delicious to drink right now. I was impressed by this completely overlooked/forgotten vintage. The 1990 was the essence of kirsch. ‘So good,’ I wrote. Emmanuel thought the 1990 was the ‘real brother with 1995.’ Its kirsch core was encased in handcrafted ceramic walls littered with ancestral designs. It was so rich but had the cut and all the muscle. Emmanuel remarked, ‘nature is now talking!’ He was also a big fan of the vintage!

1989 Chateau Rayas (97)
1988 Chateau Rayas (94)
1986 Chateau Rayas (95)
1985 Chateau Rayas (96)

The 1989 picked up right where the 1990 left off. It had a sweet core of a melange of black and red fruits. It was a perfect ’89, big and rich on the nose but more mellow on the palate with nice, dry grit. There were scrumptious cherry kirsch flavors and nice alcohol and acidity expressions. This was a ‘big vintage’ per Emmanuel. The 1988 had another sweet core, but here there was a touch of coconut along with sweet red fruits and some cotton candy goodness. It wasn’t too sweet, though. It was quite tasty with a touch of coffee. The similarity of the ‘88 continued with the 1986. This had black, red and the first blue fruits! It was better than the ’88 with great dryness and nice verve. The 1985 had a deep, meaty nose with that cotton candy goodness again. It was so good, so rich and so decadent with blackberry and black raspberries punching through. Someone admired the overall ‘consistent style, great balance of fruit and acidity, these are wines for food.’ Well said.

1981 Chateau Rayas (DQ)
1978 Chateau Rayas (98)
1976 Chateau Rayas (96)
1971 Chateau Rayas (DQ)

We hit some speed bumps in the last flight with two DQ’d wines. Flight seven started on a sour note with a hot and mature 1981. It was a touch tired and ultimately oxidized. The 1978, however, was great enough to carry the whole flight! It had an extreme palate that reminded me of the 1990. ‘Awesome’ came to mind. It had animal and berry goodness, and Emmanuel found it more reminiscent of the ’89. It was rich, decadent and buttery. Martine cooed how Jacques was ‘a master,’ and how the 1978 ‘reminds me of Burgundy.’ There is no question the 1978 is in the league of greatest Rayases ever. The 1976 showed fresh strawberries and great sweetness. The freshness was terrific as was the balance amongst all its red fruits. The 1971 sadly fell apart in the glass, not bad at first but not a great bottle in the end.

1969 Chateau Rayas (96)
1967 Chateau Rayas (95)
1962 Chateau Rayas (97)

There was a small afterparty thanks to a few generous collectors featuring a few ancient wonders from the swinging Sixties. The 1969 was Martine’s vintage, her first vintage imported, her 50th anniversary of working with Chateau Rayas! It was a great wine, classy with a splendid finish. It had good earth undertones with nice Christmas dust flavors. The 1967 was sweeter and riper with red fruits as well as a charcoal complexity. It again reminded me of Christmas with its sweet red fruits and dusty finish. The 1962 was super elegant with all of its elements still in harmony. The Sixties officially became the Christmas decade for Rayas, as I kept getting that reference. It gave me more Christmas dust kisses – red fruits, wintry spice, gingerbread and more.

Emmanuel summed up this magical evening with a sage statement, ‘We are here for a certain amount of time, but the place is here forever.’ It was a testimony to terroir and its importance, and he gave all the credit to the unique vineyard that has helped make Chateau Rayas one of the world’s greatest wines. Now what can we do to get him out of the vineyard again LOL.

It was a magical night, one I will never forget. May your 2020 be filled with nothing but great wines and great times. Happy New Year!

In Vino Veritas,

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