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Revisiting the Rhone Valley
A TASTING of two of the greatest recent vintages of a Rhone wine, Hermitage La Chapelle, Paul Jaboulet, was a timely reminder that the wine scene has for too long been dominated by two wine regions, Bordeaux and Burgundy! It was a relief to revisit Rhone once more.
Hermitage La Chapelle 1978, Paul Jaboulet Aine
June 24, 2016. Very dark red with tinges of brown at the rim, with a lovely, still wonderfully fresh, bouquet of lush ripe berries; on the palate, could still taste the glorious ripe fruit densely concentrated and very complex, but sadly showing signs of ageing, not as rich and powerful as it was at its height.
Hermitage La Chapelle 1990, Paul Jaboulet Aine
May 5, 2016. Very dark red with coffee-brownish tints. Sweet luscious bouquet of ripe blackberries; deep, concentrated wine, very ripe, and very fresh, still tinges of youthfulness at 26 years of age.
Hermitage La Chapelle 1976. Paul Jaboulet Aine
Sept 1, 2008. Deep colour, red-brown, with a heavy nose of very ripe berries; very deep and rich flavours, very ripe and surprisingly fresh for its 34 years. Good wine, holding well.
Hermitage La Chapelle 1979, Paul Jaboulet Aine
Sept 1, 2008. A medium-hued reddish-brown, transparent colour, with a rich spicy (very Shiraz) nose, medium-bodied and medium concentration at first, but took on a little more weight in the glass. Holding well, but not as good as the 1976.
Very early on in my vinous voyage I had learnt that one of the greatest wines (and a benchmark wine) was Hermitage La Chapelle 1961 by Paul Jaboulet Aine. It instantly went on to my list of wines to taste/drink and hopefully acquire.
In October 1983, while en route to London, we stopped off in Brussels to visit my good wine-merchant friend, Arthur Mampaey of AF Mampaey, and to dine at Comme Chez Sois, THE renowned three-Michelin star restaurant at the time. There on their wine list was Hermitage La Chapelle 1961! Exact price is not remembered but I recall it was a very decent price for its reputation and age. We ordered it, naturally!
Paul Jaboulet Aine was also on my list of must-visit wineries, and visit it we certainly did in 1984. And it was a memorable one. Our small band of enthusiastic wine amateurs was very warmly received by Gerard Jaboulet himself, one of the two brothers who owned the winery, and brought us to the tasting room to taste the whole range of wines from the most recently released vintage.
Towards the end of the tasting, Gerard himself walked into the room carrying an un-labelled bottle for us to taste blind. The scene remains vividly engraved in my mind! Dutifully we tasted it blind and quite naturally our band of rank amateurs was totally at sea - except for one of us, my wife!
She correctly identified it as Hermitage La Chapelle 1961! Gerard was most impressed at this small band of Singaporeans bravely visiting his winery, with one of them - the only lady - able to blind taste and identify his most famous wine. Our status as serious amateurs was immediately established.
Gerard was his family firm's ambassador, a most genial and generous man, and a great ambassador he was, annually touring the world to promote his family's wines. And he made Singapore a regular port-of-call on his annual visits.
One of our favourite topics of discussion at the dinner table (at home) was: "Which one of the recent vintages of La Chapelle do we think will become another 1961 La Chapelle?" Both of us agreed that it would be a toss-up between 1978 and 1990.
I opted for 1978 and Gerard for 1990! Sadly, Gerard passed away at home early on the morning of Sept 15, 1997, at the youthful age of 55. It was a tragic and grievous loss. A great wine-man. "Those whom the Gods love die young."
Chateau Rayas Blanc 2001
(Cepage: 50 per cent Grenache Blanc, 50 per cent Clairette.) June 24, 2016. A brilliant light yellow-gold colour, gleaming in the light.
A light, fresh and very fine, fruity aroma of ripe fruit; sweet very ripe fruity palate, very sweet and rich, not enough acidity, tasting rather like a stick of candy. It has a very long finish though.
Chateau Rayas Blanc 2000
Nov 5, 2013. Lovely golden colour; a light very floral bouquet. Sweet ripe fruit on the palate quite savoury; good minerality though, but an unusual taste, rather like a savoury very ripe orange flavour. Good length. An intriguing wine, good in itself but takes getting used to.
Chateau Rayas is perhaps Southern Rhone's most famous winery. It is not an easy winery to visit.
Jacques Reynaud was a great wine-maker, but a controversial character, who sometimes behaved eccentrically. (Legend has it that he had a habit of lying in a ditch in his vineyard to avoid journalists whom he didn't want to see.)
I was fortunate enough to know a French lady sommelier who was a good friend of his and through her good offices was introduced to him in 1987.
Thereafter, we were warmly received by him on our visits to the Rhone Valley in later years.
Sadly, he died in 1997 while buying shoes in Courthezon! The property passed to his nephew Emmanuel, who had been running Chateau des Tours since 1989.
Emmanuel struggled a bit in his early years at Rayas, resulting in a slight dip in quality between 1997 and 2002, but by 2003 the wine was back in form and the 2005 and 2007 are believed to be very good. I have yet to taste them!
Rayas Blanc is a unique wine, just as Chateau Rayas itself is. But while a great admirer of Rayas rouge, I am sadly not a great fan of Rayas Blanc, as I find it lacks acidity and therefore freshness. Perhaps, it should be tasted/drunk when still quite young. We shall see.