December 14, 2023

Rayas without Lord Rayas

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I don't show up at wine dinners often, as I've had some bad experiences with sitting next to horrible strangers. I'm also a cheapskate who prefers to drink my own wines, as I've got plenty. But when Hairy Legs pings me and suggests that maybe I should come to one of these dinners, I figured it would be wise to take his advice. So here I am, back at Caprice, and with no bottle of wine in hand. A rare occasion, indeed.

The restaurant has partnered up with ThinkWine to present a lineup of wines from Famille Reynaud of Château Rayas fame. Over the last few years, wines from this producer has seen a big increase in interest from wine lovers, and as a result the prices have experienced a massive surge... even down to the humble vin de pays and Côtes-du-Rhône. While the price of dinner was not low, Hairy Legs felt it was reasonably-priced... and I kinda agreed with him.

We had a small group tonight which included a Vaucluse native who represents the producer. I also met Lord Rayas' niece for the first time. More than 20 years after I first met and starting drinking with Lord Rayas - well-known for his love for Château Rayas but who, undoubtedly, relegates Château de Fonsalette to something he gargles with - I am now drinking with his niece. I wish someone had recorded my facial expressions the moment I was told of her relationship to my friend.

Well, we started with an aperitif while waiting for everyone to arrive:

2019 Domaine des Tours Vaucluse Blanc - served a little more than 7 hours after opening. Really ripe and really fragrant nose, with tropical stone fruits and acetone notes. The sweetness was not exactly like honey but something similar, and in any case this was really nice.

As usual, the boîte à bijoux arrived with a trio of amuses bouches:

Mushroom waffle - with button mushroom purée which came fluffy but crispy on the outside, topped with shavings of 48-month Comté.

Obsiblue prawn tart - yay, beetroot!

Pita with curry chicken mousse

Crabe royal d'Alaska, gelée de crustacés, huître Gillardeau et truffle blanche - oh yes! It's always nice to start dinner with this familiar dish, especially when white truffles are in season. The fresh mint leaves used as garnish on top really does make a subtle but noticeable difference.

The view from the side shows the layer of crustacean gelée and fennel cream.

I do love this mouthful... You've got the beautiful sweetness of the crab, the slight briny flavors of the Gillardeau oysters, the umami from the gelée, creaminess from the fennel cream (duh)... and the white truffle doesn't exactly hurt. Every bite delivers happiness.

2017 Les Tours Vaucluse Blanc - served more than 7½ hours after opening. This was much sweeter on the nose compared to the 2019, with lovely honeysuckle, along with some acetone. Very exotic and fragrant nose. This was also bigger on the palate, very, very ripe and butter, with a bitter finish.

Pâté en croûte de venaison - I love pâté en croûte during game season. In fact, I love it all year round! Little bits of fatty pork and pistachios were embedded in the venison, with foie gras in the middle and a ring of Port wine gelée between the pastry and the meat. Garnished with sticks of fresh pear, pear marmalade, and purée. Beautiful. Inhaled in an instant.

2017 Château des Tours Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge - served more than 8 hours after opening. Really lovely fruity nose, very fragrant, with a little bit of leather, lots of potpourri and dried herbs. Sooo lovely, actually, but in comparison to the 2014 Grande Réserve this was more closed, with more concentration.

2014 Château des Tours Côtes-du-Rhône Grande Réserve Rouge - served more than 8 hours after opening. Nose was showing cooler fruit for sure. This wine was so elegant, more floral with lavender notes... Is this really a Côtes-du-Rhône?! No fucking way! This was too fucking beautiful! Showing animal and leather notes, too. About 10 hours after opening this was so sweet like the honey dripping from a honeycomb, as I could smell the beeswax, too. My wine of the evening.

Homard bleu breton, cèpes et sauce ruby - same same but different. I've had this lobster twice in the last three months, but neither version was exactly the same as tonight. Of course, the execution on the homard bleu was faultless, but the interesting part was the mushroom socca topped with quennelles of diced ceps.

2009 Domaine des Tours Vaucluse Merlot-Syrah - served more than 8½ hours after opening. Nose was very minty and pretty fragrant. A little more tannic on the palate. After more than 10 hours the nose became a little grassy.

2005 Domaine des Tours Vaucluse Merlot - served more than 8½ hours after opening. Frankly the nose wasn't showing as well as the 2009 Merlot-Syrah, and felt a little dusty and not clean. Later one this seemed more ripe with some stewed prunes.

Pigeon rôti de Racan, tarte au foie gras, figues et café - Hairy Legs always knew how to serve up amazing pigeons, and tonight was no exception. In fact, I was served this exact dish with that foie gras tarte a couple of months ago.

I just love pigeon when it's done right, and that rosé color tells me it's just how I would want it.

2011 Château Pignan - served more than 9 hours after opening. The nose was really floral and beautiful. So elegant now, with lovely strawberry notes one would expect from this wine. My second favorite wine of the evening. A very close second.

2011 Château de Fonsalette Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge - served more than 9 hours after opening. Certainly more concentrated than the Pignan, more meaty, but also pretty fragrant.

Gibier et sauce grand veneur - venison from Château de Chambord came topped with a raspberry as well as some salsify, accompanied by a raspberry condiment as well as salsify purée. The sauce grand veneur was made with a small touch of cacao as well as the venison. Pretty nice venison.

2012 Rayas Rouge - served almost 10 hours after opening. Showing notes of leahter and animal, but along with floral notes which made it very fragrant and elegant. A beautiful wine for sure, but tonight this was outshone but two of its stable mates.

Sélection de fromages affinés - a good selection tonight, with Saint-Marcellin, Palouse des Aravis, Camembert, Gruyère caramel, and 36-month Comté.

Our pre-dessert arrived, and underneath the pear espuma we had cooked pear with candied ginger, ginger granité, and ice cream. Very refreshing.

Classique Mont-Blanc, iyokan et sorbet yuzu - 'tis the season for Mont-Blanc, and the use of Japanese citrus fruits made it more interesting than usual.

Mignardises arrived but I was pretty full, so I only tasted the ones I had never seen before.

Coconut creamy - a whole almond center enclosed in a coconut white chocolate.

Mandarin gelée and mint marshmallow roll.

There was a ton of wine tonight, but we seemed to have little problem polishing off the bottles. All the wines drank very well, and left us with no doubt in our minds that we should have more of these wines in our cellars than what is currently there. Very happy to have joined the party tonight.

My only question remained: Where the hell were you, Lord Rayas?!

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