Château Rayas and friends: the Reynaud family estates
A tasting of the wines of famous Châteauneuf du Pape estate Rayas, and sister properties Fonsalette and des Tours

A tasting at Roberson Wine (, March 2011

Rayas is one of the few properties in Châteauneuf du Pape that takes its name from the climat they own, named a 13 hectare vineyard that they own in its entirety. The Reynaud family arrived here in 1880, when the region was in the middle of the phylloxera epidemic that threatened to wipe out viticulture in Europe. The Château and surrounding land were purchased by Albert Reynaud, who had lost his hearing at the young age of 45. He saw out his days here, running the property in the polyculture that was normal at the time, with crops of grapes, apricots and olives.

His son Louis was intent on becoming a winegrower, and went to study at Angers. On his return he reclaimed some of the land from forests and planted more vines. By 1920, he was ready to launch the first commercial wines from Rayas. The result was 13 hectares of vines separated into 15 parcels. The soils were chalk/lime in some plots, and more sandy in others.

Louis did well enough that he was able to purchase two more properties: Château des Tours in Vacqueyras (in 1935) and Château Fonsalette (in 1945).

Louis had two sons: Bernard and Jacques. Bernard was given responsibility for des Tours, while Jacques took over Rayas, with 1978 his first vintage. Apparently, in the early 1980s the quality of Rayas dipped a little. But by the late 1980s, things were back on track and 1988, 1989 and 1990 were legendary vintages here.

Jacques was a controversial character, who sometimes behaved eccentrically (he had a habit, apparently, of lying in a ditch to avoid journalists who he didn’t want to see). He died in 1997 while buying shoes in Courthézon. The property passed to his nephew Emmanuel, who had been running Château des Tours since 1989.

Emmanuel struggled at first, and there was a dip in quality from 1997 to 2002. But 2003, 2005 and 2007 are widely believed to be fantastic wines.

This was a great chance to try some of the Rayas family wines, and most fulfilled my expectations. Shame about the 1978!


Château Fonsalette Blanc 1995 Côtes du Rhône
A blend of Grenache, Clairette and Marsanne. Not to dark in colour, this looks much younger than it is. Complex with notes of vanilla, spice, nuts and citrus. The palate has notes of herbs, nuts and spice with a slightly waxy edge. Fresh and fine with good acidity, showing some mineral complexity. Just a hint of honeyed, sherried character in the background to indicate its age. Thrilling stuff. 95/100

Château Rayas Blanc 2001 Châteauneuf du Pape
Grenache Blanc and Clairette. Yellow colour. Complex, beguiling nose of wax, nuts, herbs and fennel. The palate is rich, broad and softly textured with amazing seamless soft nut and white peach characters. Seems soft and low in acid but it’s actually quite fresh and sophisticated: a really striking wine with a long nutty finish. 95/100

Château Rayas Blanc 1990 Châteauneuf du Pape
Full yellow colour. Nutty, intense and powerful with good acidity and some sherried, nutty character. Lively, rich and spicy with a rich, nutty flavour. Savoury, complex and bold. 94/100

Château des Tours 2007 Côtes du Rhône
I’ve had slightly mixed experiences with this wine. The bottle at this tasting was fabulous; a bottle purchased later proved not to be so compelling. It’s aromatic with pure liqueur-like cherry and berry fruits and some subtle sappy greenness. Hints of meat and spice, too. Brilliantly elegant (the good bottle, that is) with pure fruit and a nice mineral finish. Can’t score (one bottle would have been mid-90s, the other mid-80s)

Château Fonsalette 2004 Côtes du Rhône
Lifted, spicy nose shows peppery freshness, with raspberry and plum fruit. The palate has a grainy, peppery structure with nice savouriness to the cherry and raspberry fruit. Expressive personality and potential for development. 94/100

Château Fonsalette Cuvée Syrah 1995 Côtes du Rhône
Deep coloured. Some spicy, medicinal, meaty, minty notes adding freshness to the dark fruits nose. The palate is tannic and taut with a wonderful spicy, subtly medicinal savouriness to the dark fruits. It’s drying and structured, with really firm mouth-coating tannins. Robust and youthul, but avoids rusticity, although the structure is winning out over the fruit. 92/100

Château Rayas Pignan 2004 Châteauneuf du Pape
Pignan represents 20% of Rayas’ red wine production, and is made from separate vineyards, primarily. Beautifully smooth, elegant liqueur-like red fruits on the nose. Sweetly aromatic. The palate has a lovely green sappy edge. It’s really elegant and lively with nice acidity. Fresh with some tannins. Lovely focus here, showing some evolution so I’d drink it now. Superbly elegant. 95/100

Château Rayas 1995 Châteauneuf du Pape
Still quite deep coloured. Warm, rich nose with soy sauce and pepper notes. The palate shows some evolution with earthy, spicy notes, although there is still some cherry fruit, as well as spicy warmth. Firm tannins. Not a terribly elegant wine, but robust, complex and full of interest. 92/100

Château Rayas 1988 Châteauneuf du Pape
Aromatic nose with notes of undergrowth and spices as well as herbs and cherry fruit. The palate is lively and complex with raspberry, earth and tar notes. It still has some sweetness to it, nicely balanced by the fresh fruity notes and subtle earthiness. Fresh, poised and drinking well now, this is a lovely wine. 96/100

Château Rayas 1978 Châteauneuf du Pape
Murky colour. Savoury ‘old wine’ spicy nose, with notes of soy sauce, meat and earth. The palate is dense and earthy with dry, savoury tannins. Meaty an full, this is still quite tasty, but it has a soupy oldness to it and lacks any elegance. Past its best, but of historical interest. 85/100

See also:

A vertical tasting of Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape

Published 12/11  
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