Speaking w/ Ryan at Tribeca grill, one of the better sommeliers I’ve had the good fortune to come across in the city, re-invigorated the ‘Grenache chip on my shoulder’ that I’ve had since my first taste of Chateauneuf du Pape. Ryan’s tales of a ’45 Rayas bringing tears to the eyes of top New York sommeliers gave me such a vicarious thrill that I began to salivate at the thought. The knocks on the grape, whether it be an uncanny need for high alcohol to attain varietal character, an inability to age w/ the best Bordeaux, the outlandish ‘it tastes too damn good’ or its fragile vulnerability to oxidation all seem to collectively bar it from ‘nobility.’ What is nobility? Well, to me, it is a vaunted class of varietals the likes of Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Syrah, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and varied other hallowed grapes that have received a unanimously celebrated status from the old world and the new, driving consumer demand and producer intrigue, proliferating their cultivation throughout various terroirs of the planet. They not only have cache as a brand, they have a sense of respect amongst writers, tasters and all geeks alike, even the more extreme examples. But what of Grenache, where is its scribed poetry?
Another topic of discussion circulated around what a sweet spot Chateauneuf seems to be for Grenache, making me question if there really is ‘no place like home’ for this heart-felt grape of mine. Whether it be terroir specific or vine maturation (this region collectively has to have the oldest vines on the planet), it seems no other appellation has hit such heights w/ Grenache; making me question whether or not my predilection lies w/ the grape or amongst the galet covered grounds of the southern Rhone. Priorat can be compelling, yet polarizing. Old vine Australian Grenache can hint at greatness, but seems to get lost in the mix. Californian Grenache can be a heady delight, yet the only wines from the Golden State that truly evoke the sense of complexity, savory flesh and lushness of fruit seem to come from Zinfandel, which tends to leave me as puzzled as it does pleasured. To this point, for me, all roads still lead to the new house of the Pope.
In the majority of wine literature, Rayas is the icon that is synonymous w/ great Grenache, or the lone caveat that the grape’s doubters will collectively agree upon in terms of quality and longevity. I chose to dive into these mystical wines, not only to compensate for my lack of experience w/ the Chateau (the number of vintages I’d tasted could be counted on one hand), but to inundate myself w/ a pure, unadulterated Grenache from a uniquely sandy terroir. Another wrinkle the vertical provided was that of a change in regime….from the late, great Jacques to his quirky cousin, Emmanuel. Where the Jacques wines that great? Are the wines under Emmanuel up to snuff, or did they really loose a step?
Unfortunately, one tasting can never be comprehensive enough to tackle both questions to an appropriate degree (and this missing watershed vintages such as the ’78, ’85, ’89 and ’90), but I can unequivocally say that I was very pleasantly surprised w/ the quality of Emmanuel’s ’01 and ’04. I expected Emmanuel’s wines to be solid, but got a bit more than I bargained for in the earlier vintages The ’04 vintage, in particular, provided yet another fabulously under-priced winner (though not cheap, it happened to be the most inexpensive Rayas of the tasting)…but something tells me I’ve said that before about 2004.
Oh yeah, and the ’90 Fonsalette Syrah demonstrated, yet again, that Southern Rhone Syrah is by no means a laughing matter. Where there are ‘exceptions to the rule,’ there are bound to be more undiscovered gems lurking in the background….