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The Rare, The Ridiculous, The Rayas… BI’s 2013 Rhone Tasting

by Tom Chadwick, Philippe Guittard & Gareth Birchley

Last week's Rhone tasting highlighted what a magnificently diverse region this is, with incredible variations in style between communes, growers and vintages. The wines showed beautifully, and the range of current releases and mature vintages certainly got us wishing we were sitting on stacks of these wines bought on release. Mature wines from the likes of Chave, Rayas and Beaucastel showed the true calibre and capability of the Rhone and served as a timely reminder that whilst many of us have happily bought Bordeaux on release for many years – with no intention of drinking it for 10 years minimum – not enough of us have done this for the top wines of the Rhone and finding mature examples can be tough given the relatively small production of many estates.

However it wasn’t simply the most expensive wines that suggested buying and storing this way would be a smart idea: two of the best value wines on show, Guigal’s Cotes du Rhone 2009 en magnum and Hermitage Blanc 2008 were both magnificent – great to drink now but with easily 3 more years of fascinating development ahead of them.

That said there were a few standouts on the night: Chateau Rayas and its baby brother, the uber-Cotes du Rhone Chateau de Fonsalette, both from the 2001 vintage... More Burgundy or Cote Rotie in style than Chateauneuf-du-Pape (despite falling inside the latter AOC), one’s first time tasting Rayas tends to be a nigh-on religious experience. These were both stunningly good with nigh on 12 years of development – the only difference being that the Rayas felt like it had many more years to go where the Fonsalette was absolutely a point and ready to drink.

Another was the staggering 2005 Reserve des Celestins from Henri Bonneau. Even at 8 years old this was an absolute infant, although it was already glowing with incredible potential; incredibly complex and ripe on the nose, hugely structured but glossy of texture, and with a palate that delivered layer upon layer of rich fruit.

No proper Rhone tasting would be complete without Jean Louis Chave, and the 2006 Hermitage was a thing of real beauty. Perfumed but farmyard-y, lightweight but dense of fruit, this managed to feel authentic and regionally appropriate whilst being glossy and polished. This is one of the great wines of the world and whilst not cheap, compared to similar standard wines from Bordeaux or Burgundy looks great value.

The team have picked out some of their favourites from what was one of our most enjoyable tastings to date.

Tom Chadwick
Clearly as bon vivants of the wine trade we do get access to the good, great, rare and ridiculous wines available in the marketplace but we still grasp every opportunity that comes our way. Pouring at last week’s tasting was a treat; I know the clients who made the journey to Hatton Garden were blown away by what was on offer - but make no mistake, we were too.

I would like to congratulate Rhone Buyer Philippe Guittard for advancing my knowledge of this region (and my wife would like to blame him for my ever increasing staff account).

Two crackers from the night:

2004 La Mouline, E. Guigal
Well according to Parker: ‘The 2004 Cote Rotie La Mouline rivals its two siblings as the wine of the vintage in this appellation’ and it’s clear to see why. It wouldn’t surprise me if when this wine is re-tasted it gets an even better score. The bouquet that hurls itself out of the glass and smacks you on either cheek is concentrated, deep, brooding and hugely savoury. In the mouth it is exactly the same with dark forest fruit, cassis and a beguiling femininity about it. Complex and oh so long. There is a real elegance to this wine and whilst to some it might seem a punishable offence, I would happily enjoy a bottle now and treat myself to a bottle every couple of years over the next decade… that’s restraint! If you know the tango advert with the catch phrase ‘you know when you’ve been tangoed’ then I think Guigal should adopt a similar slogan. 97 Pts TC

2009 Cotes du Rhone, E. Guigal
This has been my house drinker for some time now and I remember drinking the almost Burgundian 1998 many years ago. It's sumptuous and gorgeous in youth and ages so well. Remember that this guy makes the wine above! Same pedigree and same ‘k-now how’. 50% Syrah, 40% Grenache and 10% Mourvedre. Delicious, inexpensive and delivers bang for buck year in, year out. Did I mention that it comes in magnums too…? There really is no reason that even the most sophisticated cellar doesn’t house a few cases. 91 Pts TC

Philippe Guittard
It is always a great experience to taste various wines from the same appellation side by side. Our line-up of 8 different Chateauneuf was very interesting in that way. It is difficult to decide which ones really stood out, as all of them had their own style and identity. For example both the Pegau Reservee 2007 and Beaucastel 2001 were truly amazing, showing great intensity and character. If you like racy, traditional Chateauneuf you cannot be disappointed with these two. However the one that really stood out for me was the Reserve des Celestins 2005 from Henri Bonneau.

On the nose it shows waves of meaty, peppery, herbs, spice and blackberry. Very dense on the palate it already delivers a lot of complexity and a very deep, intense fruit character. The overall balance is just perfect; tannins and acidity are perfectly in harmony and show that the wine has the structure to evolve for many years. What is really astonishing about the wine is that it is very powerful and concentrated and yet extremely elegant at the same time... A lot of patience will be required for it to approach maturity but at age 8 it shows a very promising and exciting potential. Superb! 98-100 Pts PG

Gareth Birchley
As the Burgundy Buyer at BI, it wasn’t surprising that I was blown away by the silky, elegant, refined Rayas 2001. If served blind Rayas never seems like Chateauneuf du Pape… the purity and Burgundian nature lead you to Pinot Noir every time and this 2001 did exactly that. Incredible balance and finesse with the mature game and smoky flavours one associates with great Rhone. A beautiful combination with decades ahead of it. 96+ Pts GB

View More BI Rhone Favourites | Download the Full Tasting List ]

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