Friday, February 9, 2007

Delicious and Confusing Rhone Red

Years ago I when I first started collecting wine auctions were viable sources of bargains for some really fine wines. I purchased all of my initial "top tier" wines at the Christies wine auctions in Beverly Hills and the Butterfields & Butterfields auctions in Hollywood (simulcast from San Francisco, which was kind of cool). From 1996-99 I picked up some early Staglin, Shafer Hillside Select, Diamond Creek, Ridge Montebello, Mouton Rothschild and others all at prices below their listed retail prices at the time. The "secret" about auction bargains is long extinct and auctions appear to be showcases for indulgence and excessive spending. I haven't been to one in years, though I did pick up a nice lot of 2000 Zind-Humbrecht Rangen Riesling on an absentee bid for a song a couple of years ago. Now that's good juice.

I don't know about others but I used to get an itchy paddle at the wine auctions if I hadn't won a bid on anything yet. Sometimes I would make unintended purchases of wines just to show that I meant business, that I wasn't just some auction voyeur. Most of the time these were good to very good buys, and a few were stinkers, though I never spent more that a couple of Ben Fs for any given impulse purchase. One of these drive "buys" was of the of the 1985 Chateau Fonsalette Reserve from Cotes du Rhone, a lovely, earthy red that turned out to be a great bargain (I paid around $23 a bottle for a case) and proved to be my first Rhone. Being a knowledge hound I read up on Fonsalette and discovered that it was actually made by Jacques Reynaud at Chateau Rayas, which is in CdP. Hmmm. Let's get this straight, a Cotes du Rhone--Fonsalette (now part of the Cotes du Rhone Villages appelation) vinified in CdP at a renowned CdP winemaker? Confusing, but it sure worked for me, esp. given the 3x or 4x differences in prices between the Fonsalette and the Rayas. Of course different grapes go into the different cuvees, at least theoretically, but the Rayas wine making operation was notoriously antiquated and Reynaud did whatever he pleased so I suspect that he occasionally spiced up the Fonsalette with a little bit of bang from the Rayas vineyards. I have no evidence of this whatsoever but who would this hurt in the long run?

So I'm at an auction after reading that Reynaud died in 1997 and that the 1996 vintage of the Rayas is his last one. To my surprise a case of the 1996 Fonsalette goes up for grabs and the bidding is modest my paddle raised and Sold! to bidder # 283. I think I paid about $35 a bottle, I know, not the big times but heh it's not like I'm Jon Kapon, Dr. Despai or one of those filthy rich Indonesian collectors. This turned out to be another good buy and, after selling a few bottles to my sister (at cost, if you must know) I've enjoyed this wine over the past few years with the guzzlers (who can't get enough of it) and by myself.

The other day I spotted a bottle in the deep recesses of my cellar the other day and said "what the fuck, try it again, Mr. You Think You Have a Good Rhone Palate Now Don't You?" The wine is a 1996 Chateau de Fonsalette Cotes du Rhone Reserve, which according to my research, is comprised of 50% Grenache, 35% Cinsault and 15% Syrah (though some say "Syrah" on the label), all sourced from Fonsalette's 10 ha vineyards (except for the mystery juice that Reynaud slipped in from Rayas!). The bottle says 14% alcohol which seems right. More confusing French declarations crisscross the label and the Chateau Rayas and CdP designations crowd the corners [see accompanying picture]. No wonder people can't figure out French labels.

Tasting Notes: Dark cherry red in the glass, chocolate and leather on the nose, Bing cherry and violets midpalate, rich, bold and velvety, loamy, long chewy finish with earth, blueberries and pepper. Balanced tannins, with quite a bit of life left here. A bit light/simple to make it a great Rhone but very nice.

Rating: Tasty.

Cheers, Barrld


Anonymous said...

I discovered mine in the back of the cellar. Will dust it off and see how it fared.
Sister Sue

Barrld said...

You'll be glad you did; it's drinking nicely now so why risk missing it at its peak? Cheers, Barrld