t was just another day in the department last Thursday, when I received a visit from Colette Comeau, ace sales rep for Eagle Eye Imports, out of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Eagle Eye is an exciting new player on the wine import scene, specializing in fine wines from France from relatively small, unknown domaines, but they have also recently expanded their portfolio to include producers from Argentina, Spain and the US. On this occasion, Colette was accompanied by the proprietors of one of the French estates that Eagle Eye represents in the US, Dany and Christian Berthet-Rayne, growers and producers of excellent Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf du Pape.
Domaine Berthet-Rayne is located quite near to Château de Beaucastel, between Orange and Avignon, but Christian doesn’t wish to be compared to their famous neighbor, because, as he put it, they (Beaucastel) have become a very large operation, while "we are still a small family domaine." Small or not, however, these folks are making some very nice wines indeed, growing all of their own grapes, practicing organic farming exclusively. Christian says that the Berthet-Rayne wines draw their strength and richness from Argilo-calcareous chalky clay soils (22 hectares worth), and after trying them, one has to admit that they are quite impressive, showing a real sense of place.
I’ve tried one of their Châteauneuf du Papes previously, and while that was a solid, if unspectacular effort, much of the current lineup impressed me quite a bit more. Here’s a rundown on what I tasted:
2004 Domaine Berthet-Rayne Châteauneuf du Pape Tradition Blanc, 35% Clairette, 35% Bourboulenc, 20% Grenache Blanc & 10% Roussane, $29.99, 14% alc.: Medium straw color, offering reserved but appealing floral bouquet on the nose and under ripe white fruit underpinned with solid minerality and shaded with a hint of lanolin. Christian recommends pairing this with fish, scallops and hors d’ oeuvres, and I have no reason to suggest otherwise. (50 year-old Grenache vine photo at left courtesy of Domaine Berthet-Rayne) Find this wine
2003 Domaine Berthet-Rayne Côtes du Rhône Vieilles Vignes, 75% Grenache, 15% Cinsault & 10% Syrah, $13.99, 14% alc.: Smoky dark garnet color, featuring smoky, earthy red fruit flavors and aromas; full bodied, with big structure and good length. Excellent QPR; buy it by the case. Find this wine
2004 Domaine Berthet-Rayne Châteauneuf du Pape Tradition Rouge, 65% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre, 10% Cinsault & 5% Syrah, $29.99, 14% alc.: Deep dark garnet color, with a lovely perfume and a smoky, sunbaked character that cradles the black plum and berry fruit, all anchored with a deep, earthy iron core; full body and big structure here, with solid tannins that clamp down on the fin. Christian says that these are at their prime drinking window at around the 7th year from the vintage, but this strikes me as being a 10 year wine and then some. Whatever the case, it shows excellent promise and offers good value for the price tag. Find this wine
2003 Domaine Berthet-Rayne Châteauneuf du Pape Vieilli en Fût de Chene, 65% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre & 5% Cinsault, $33.99, 14% alc.: Aged in 2, 3, 4 and 5 year old barrels, and this smoky dark garnet does reflect that in both flavor and aroma, but in a complimentary manner, and in perfect proportion the greater whole of the wine; quite approachable, it gives pretty black plums and red and black berries shaded with smoke and spice. With good structure and length, this impresses me as being three to five years from its peak. Find this wine
2001 Domaine Berthet-Rayne Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée Cadiac, 50% Grenache, 50% Mourvedre, $51.99, 14% alc.: This smoky dark garnet, the Berthet-Rayne flagship, saw 100% new oak, but the wine is anything but an oak bomb; the wood is very well integrated, blending seamlessly with the earth, leather, smoke and black fruit flavors and aromas, and while it’s quite lovely now, it has the structure to develop and improve over the next three to five years. Pure, lovely Châteauneuf du Pape character. Find this wine
While Dany is rather reserved, Christian is quite animated and enthusiastic, especially when talking about their wines. I’d actually met him in another life at a previous place of employment. At that time, he was making the rounds in Day-twah with Eagle Eye rep Joe DeRose, and while chatting with Mssr. Berthet-Rayne, I tried to explain the concept of a "desert island wine," telling him that if I could only have access to one kind of wine, it would have to be Châteauneuf du Pape. He immediately gave me an exuberant embrace and exclaimed, "When you come to France, you must stay wez us!"
With wines like this and Christian’s wacky exuberance, we may just have to take him up on that offer. I’d love to get to know these people and their wines much better.
Reporting from Day-twah,
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