There are wines that are connected to certain eras. In the early days (the late nineties) of my time at Astor Wines, the bottles that captured attention were the Dagueneaus, Tempiers, CVNEs, Beaucastels, Rayas’ and the DRCs (when it was actually affordable).
It was a time that preceded the natural-wine wave when sound wine drinkers looked to tradition, terroir and typicity. To this day I try to recall the way I related to wine then. It was before blogs, Wine Therapy, Wine Disorder, Twitter and Ten Bells. It’s like trying to imagine life before the internet.
Jim and I worked at Astor together in 1998. It was where we met. We consumed champagne almost every weekend and constantly purchased wines from Burgundy (his love) and the Rhône (my then love). A lot of these bottles have sat collecting dust in his basement studio on Tenth Street in the East Village.
The small and odd collection of wine we’d amassed has grown to have significance for me – pointing to the life I had with Jim for twelve years. The last year was full or turmoil and change but we’re making it through as good friends. Division of goods has been easy and our little cellar was no question. We will still drink our beloved bottles together, and share them with the willing, but we wondered, had the wines been destroyed in temperatures that were not ideal?
We decided to find out by opening two Rhônes on Monday night: Ch. Rayas’ second label Pignan 1996 Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Ch. Fonsalette ’95 Côtes-du-Rhône. Jim hosted dinner, cooked his special burgers (freshly ground beef rump from Ottomanelli) and we shared the bottles with Jon Wallace and John Rankin from Chambers Street Wines.
Both wines showed beautifully and surprised us a little. The ’96 Pignan seemed more evolved than the Fonsalette. 1996 was Jacques Raynaud’s final vintage, before his death in 1997. (He had no offspring and the estate has since been taken over by his nephew. I’ve no idea what the wines are like these days, though I am curious). The fruit was still fairly ripe, the tannins were almost sweet, the wine smelled of violets and old wood (I hear Rayas CdP was typically fermented in tank and raised in foudres but not sure about the élevage for the second label).
What also made Rayas stand apart from other CdP producers was his focus on Grenache. Out of all the varieties permitted by the appellation, his choice was all Grenache, a grape that can produce wines that are cloying in their youth but this was a stunning wine.
The Fonsalette ‘95 was all blood and Marmite (sort of like a beef bouillon cube), tar and iodine, darker and deeper. It reminded me of why I loved the Rhône (North and South) so much and that I shouldn’t have defected entirely (Eric Texier aside) to the Loire of late. For today’s sign o the times, maybe I’ll snag a bottle of Gonon St. Joseph from CSW, and open it in fifteen years.