Peter Baekgaard hosted a few of us for dinner at his home in New Rochelle yesterday, and one of the most amazing lineups of wine I've ever enjoyed. Can't thank Peter enough for his hospitality and generosity - he provided most of the wines below, and put together a fantastic dinner that was made all the more enjoyable by some great company.
An incredible evening that for me confirmed Rayas is something truly unique with a finesse, purity and ethereal quality in most of the wines that spoke more of great Burgundy than CDP (until we got to the Syrahs, which were remarkably evocative of traditional Northern Rhones). The quality across the wines is also remarkable, as both bottles of Pignan were as good as many of the main Rayas bottlings (and the 07 Pignan was one of my favourite wines of the night), and the Des Tours CDRs were also very good.
Most of the wines were poured either single, or in flights of two - though I'm glad I brought a couple of extra stems, as I was able to give a few some more time in the glass to really develop some amazing aromatic nuances.
The whites:2007 Château des Tours Côtes du Rhône Blanc
From an estate that's owned and maintained by the Reynaud family. A lovely way to start the evening; a seasoning of freshly ground white pepper on top of ripe white fruits and faint waxy notes, medium weight and layered and lovely with salumi. 2003 Château Rayas Côtes du Rhône Blanc Château de Fonsalette Reserve
A shock to see this is from 2003 given how fresh and bright the flavours seem. It's certainly ripe with bright peachy and white cherry flavours tinged with pepper and herbs, but it's beautifully balanced with bright acids and there's a sense of lightness and freshness here that's quite remarkable for the vintage. 2004 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc Reserve
Floral and herbal elements around a core of ripe white fruited flavours; rich and creamy-textured, brings a ripe Meursault to mind with great balance and a sense of purity to the flavours. Lovely stuff.2005 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc Reserve
First of the OMFG wines. This is just absurd. A spectacular aromatic profile combining all sorts of floral, spicy, savoury and herbal elements around ripe white fruited flavours, amazing depth and a sense of polish in the mouth; rich and dominated by fruit up front but turning more savoury on the back end with a finish that's like an essence of white truffle and goes for on for long after each sip. Unreal. 2006 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc Reserve
Very good, but that 05 is a really hard act to follow.
This comes across much more dense and heavy, oily-textured and not showing anywhere near the same complexity or finesse and it's the sort of wine I'm sure I'd enjoy a lot more drinking on its own - but after that ethereal '05, it's almost a struggle.
The reds: Grenache2007 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Pignan Reserve
Spectacular aromatics! Powerful cherry and raspberry fruit, bright floral elements and a savoury earthy element that really brings a top Gevrey to mind - this is a wine I could just sit and smell for a while, but in the mouth it's pretty spectacular too, showing amazing depth and power, yet conveying a remarkable finesse and lightness and just hard to move away from. This defies pretty much every stereotype I've heard for '07 Southern Rhones, and upon revisiting later on in the evening, still was on par with a lot of the Rayas bottles from other years. Wow. 2007 Château des Tours Côtes du Rhône Reserve
Poured alongside the '07 Pignan, which was pretty tough on it. It comes across quite polished and nicely balanced, but not particularly interesting and a little simple with bright red fruits tinged with gentle floral and spicy notes. Enjoyable, though overwhelmed by the company.2006 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Pignan Reserve
Lighter and more finessed than the '07, though not quite as complex and nuanced aromatically - all about pretty red fruits and floral elements, though not showing the same earthy savouriness. This conveys flavour with a lighter touch though, with a truly ethereal sensation on the palate and incredible balance. 2004 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Reserve
Rather one-note and surprisingly dull, essence of fresh cherries but not showing much else. Consensus at table is that it's closed.2003 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Reserve
More open and giving than the '04, though not particularly exciting. It's full of ripe (not overripe) red fruited flavours and exotic floral accents, lots of power and well balanced - a lovely wine considering the vintage, but doesn't have the same complexity or finesse as a lot of the other Rayas or Pignan bottlings. 2001 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Reserve
Higher toned aromatics than the other Rayas bottlings; a bit blocky and awkward at first with the acidity and structure not integrated with the flavours but with time (and food) it comes together and it's a lovely wine; still showing its acidity and very light on its feet but impeccably balanced. 2000 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Reserve
Alright, who sneaked a Chambertin into this tasting?
This is spectacular... layers of fresh red berries and cherries, savoury earthy and leathery elements, a herbal and spicy seasoning and incredible balance, finesse and freshness to the flavours with a finish that just resonates. 'Wow' may be an understatement. 1994 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Reserve
WOW. Surreal, haunting aromatics. Exotic floral and herbal elements, developed savoury leathery, meaty and sous bois notes and fresh cherries and strawberries all combining into an amazing scent; lighter than the other Rayas bottlings with a really delicate touch to the flavours and again incredible balance and purity that words fail to convey. Utterly amazing wine. 1995 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Reserve
OMFG. And somehow, a step up from the '94. Given what I'd heard about this (Jacques Reynaud's last vintage apparently and talked about as one of his greatest wines), I had the highest expectations and this not only lived up but surpassed them. Glorious aromatics combining all sorts of pure red fruited flavours, meaty, floral and earthy elements into one hypnotic and intoxicating scent. More exotic and floral than the '94, and the colour's remarkably youthful with barely any sign of bricking (the '94 was a lot paler and cloudy with a bit of sediment). There's amazing power here, yet a sense of incredible finesse and elegance and a finish that just resonates - words fail to do this justice. One of the greatest wines I've ever had. Thanks Marco for bringing this. 1996 Château Rayas Côtes du Rhône Château de Fonsalette Reserve
suffered following the flight of the '95 and '94. Enjoyed each sip, full of fresh bright red fruited and floral flavours tinged by the start of developing meatiness and earthiness, but I was still having trouble coming back to earth from the previous two wines.2005 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Reserve
Well, this has no trouble following the '95. It's really like drinking a younger version of it; not as developed in terms of its flavours and the aromatics may not be quite as haunting and alluring just yet, but there's the same sense of finesse, unreal depth and purity; power conveyed with barely any sense of weight and amazing persistence. Great, great wine that still defies description. 1999 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Pignan Reserve
Plummy and more dark fruited in its flavours than the other Rayas/Pignan bottles, where the fruit was firmly in the cherry/raspberry/strawberry spectrum. There's some developing smokiness and earthiness here, but it's still very primary. Powerful and deep, though not quite as delicate and ethereal in the mouth as the other bottles. That's nitpicking, it's still fantastic wine.
Finishing up with a pair of Syrahs that made me wonder whether Peter double-decanted any of his old Cote-Roties in here. 1996 Château Rayas Côtes du Rhône Château de Fonsalette Cuvée Syrah
Immediately a wow from the fragrance alone; meaty, bloody, peppery and leathery scents dominate around gentler blackberry and red fruited flavours and a touch of barnyard funk that wouldn't be out of place in an older Cornas. There's great balance here, and it's the sort of wine I could just sit and smell for a while. One of my favourites of the evening. 1997 Château Rayas Côtes du Rhône Château de Fonsalette Cuvée Syrah
Many of the same fragrances and flavours as the '96, though not showing quite the same depth and the same degree of smoky/meaty complexity. Excellent, but overshadowed with the brilliant '96 alongside.
An unbelievable tasting - thanks again Peter for all your generosity, and all for the great company and conversation.