What I'm Drinking...

Chateau de Fonsalette 1974

Publish Date: 20 Jul 2015

Authored by: James Halliday

Until 2005 this was (legally) just a Cotes du Rhone blend of unspecified portions of grenache, mourvedre, carignan, cinsaut and other less well known reds, with a discretionary 5% of white varieties. In 2005 it became entitled to one of the 16 villages of the Cotes due Rhone Villages, Massif d'Uchaux, and rated one of the best two vineyards in the region. The Appellation requires that the vines be grown on sandstone hillsides at 100-280m at Massif d'Uchaux and five surrounding communes. Its real claim to fame was (and is) the third tier wine of the magnificent Chateau Rayas wines of L. Reynaud (and the second-tier Clos Pignan). M. Reynaud cared little for French legislation, and calmly called his Fonsalette 1er Grand Cru, a breathtaking piece of hyperbole. It is a rating that exists nowhere in France. A lengthy introduction, perhaps, but that's the way it goes with Reynaud.

The other feature of the wine is the vintage: 1974 was an appalling year for almost all of France, retched in Bordeaux and Burgundy, but, in one of those quirks, a great year in the southern Rhone Valley. The '74 wines are now almost gone from the auction scene, but while they were available, they could be bought for a song. I purchased this wine (amongst many) from Negociants, then and now the importers of Chateau Rayas and its other two brands, all on the strictest allocation and seldom reaching a retailer's shelf. I'm writing this tasting note on the second night after opening the bottle; last night I was mildly disappointed, tonight I am thrilled. Its soft, gently fruit-sweet flavours are wrapped in an Arabian bazaar of spices, the tannins now only a memory, the colour with a near-tawny rim, yet the wine is so entrancing at a splendid 41 years of age. I only had 250ml of the wine last night, but the remaining 500ml will be quickly disappearing tonight, and as I write, the length of the wine on the palate is growing ever longer. Don't get me wrong, I've yet to make any sort of dent into the wine as I sign off. A rich ragout of lamb was a good match.

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