This past weekend I had the good fortune to be invited to drink some 27-year-old Rhône Syrah. A friend was having a party and there were several culinary treats. Pizzas grilled on the barbecue with fresh herbs and vegetables from the garden, homemade mozzarella and sangria, and our favorite cider on tap. Add the fire pit and this wine surprise, and I was in heaven there for a while. The bottle was presented by one of the guests who received it as a gift. While not knowing a ton about the wine, the age obviously made it special and they asked whether I thought it would be good. While this would likely be considered past maturity, I certainly thought it would still be drinkable and was excited to try. We decanted it for about 50 minutes as there was plenty of residue, and to allow it to open up.
As you would expect, the fruit was fully developed and the complexity was rich – black pepper everywhere, with subtle black currant fruit notes and hints of liquorice, bramble and soil. The tannins were subdued as was the acidity, and it was all very smoothly integrated by this point. And it was not musty at all. There was definitely rim variation on the edge of the wine due to its age.
The Appelation of Côtes du Rhône tells you that this wine has reasonable quality even if it doesn’t come from a more famous appelation in the region. There are many fine wines of this type within the region. If anything, this translates into a good buy for your money as often these other vineyards are right on the other side of a boundary of a famous appelation. Red wines in this broader appelation are usually a blend of the three big red varieties, GSM — or Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. Cinsault and Carignan are used too. These days, stating just Syrah on the label would indicate that this varietal makes up 85% or more of the blend. I don’t know the exact percentages of the varietals in this wine but I would guess Syrah makes up a healthy portion if it is stated there, even by older laws.
More recent vintages seem to have a majority of Grenache with Cinsault next and only last, Syrah. This makes me wonder why Syrah is so prominent on the label of the 1986. This vineyard is located in the central Côtes du Rhône Villages area, so one can’t assume its due to it being from the Northern Rhône where Syrah dominates. I would guess that it was either an older generation’s chosen blend, or weather factors in that growing season made for nice ripe Syrah which they wanted to showcase. Since 2005 this region has become part of Côtes du Rhône Village Massif.
Fonsalette is a brand, not a domaine. The actual vineyards are in Lagarde-Paréol but the wines are vinified at Château Rayas. It belongs to the Reynaud family, who bought Rayas in the 1880s when former notary Albert Reynaud became deaf and had to change careers. Its been passed down the generations since, and with the addition of Chateau des Tours. All said, they also make a Côtes du Rhône Blanc, Châteuneuf du Pape and Châteauneuf du Pape Blanc in their vineyards and estates. They are old-world, described even as the ‘antithesis of modern winemaking’. These are low-yielding old vines, and the winery itself is nothing grand in appearance, choosing to focus on the wine above all else.
I’ve seen the price listed anywhere from $135 in France to over $300 in the U.S when searching the web. Parker gave the vintage 78 points, though I enjoyed it a lot more than that! And he wrote fondly about his meeting then-winemaker Jacques Reynaud (Albert’s son) in his 1997 book “Wines of the Rhone Valley” and holds their wines in high regard. If anyone else has any experience, insight or clarifications on this wine, I’d love to hear your thoughts.