First Published in The Irish Times, Saturday, 31st August, 2019
Earlier this year I spent four days tasting my way through scores of wines from the Rhône Valley. Although I enjoyed the red wines, in many cases it was the whites that stood out as really special. There is a richness and generosity to the wines that I really enjoy when I want something a little different. These are wines that grow and improve with food.
In the past some wines were a little too generous; too high in alcohol and lacking acidity and freshness. This has all changed, partly a result of better viticulture and winemaking, and partly by choosing the right places to plant vines; some parts of the Rhône Valley are at a relatively high altitude and can produce wines with good acidity to match the succulence and texture.
While the vast majority, more than 90 per cent, of the wines produced in the southern Rhône are red, there is growing interest in both white wines and rosé. A mere 4 per cent are rosé, and the remaining 6 per cent white; this may not sound like much, but when you remember the region produces more than half a million cases of wine each year, it means there are plenty of wines to try.
The grape varieties are more varied here than in the northern Rhône. As well as Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne, you will find Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc, Picpoul, Bourbelenc, Clairette and Vermentino, known here as Rolle. These are typically blended together to create individual wines with real character.
I mentioned food earlier, and these are great wines to match with more robust chicken and fish dishes, as well as those with creamy sauces. Barbecued chicken, crab cakes, seared scallops, creamy curries and chowders all work well, as do a lot of cheeses. Some hard cheeses are far better with Rhône whites than red wines.
Some of the best white appellations, such as Vacqueyras, Ventoux, and Valréas are not very well-known for either red or white. The one area I didn’t cover was Châteauneuf-du-Pape, home to some great long-lived white wines, although I tried a Chapoutier Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Bernadine 2017 that was explosively good. If you fancy a real treat, Searsons in Monkstown still has a few bottles of the Vacqueyras Blanc from Sang de Cailloux – €46.95 but worth every cent.
The easiest way to try out the white wines of the southern Rhône is to buy a bottle of basic white Côtes du Rhône the next time you go to the supermarket or wine shop; they can offer great value for money. Most of the big names, such as Jaboulet, Chapoutier, Délas, Ferraton and Guigal offer a range, and most are well worth trying.
La Truffière 2017, Côtes du Rhône, La Ferme du Mont
Restrained opulence in an enticing fresh wine with lightly textured apricots and nectarines. Perfect with poached or grilled salmon.
From Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin, onthegrapevine.ie
Sablet 2017, Côtes du Rhône Villages, Domaine Les Goubert
Medium-bodied with attractive pure plump peach fruits. Fish soups, grilled white fish, or a quiche and salad.
From Terroirs, Dublin 4, terroirs.ie
Zephyr 2017, Côtes du Rhône, Les Deux Cols (organic)
This is quite gorgeous and worth every cent. Honeysuckle aromas; medium-bodied, textured with rich pear fruits, a touch of toasted almonds and marzipan with a glorious finish. Roast Mediterranean vegetables, fish soups, salade Niçoise.
From Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth, Co Kildare, elywinebar.ie; La Touche, Greystones, Co Wicklow, latouchewines4u.ie; Martin’s Off -Licence, Fairview, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie; Morton’s, Dublin 6, mortons.ie; Searsons, Monkstown, Co Dublin, searsons.com
Mineral 2017, Vacqueyras Blanc, Domaine Montirius
Lightly and aromatic with very enticing elegant succulent yellow fruits underpinned by a crisp reviving acidity. With grilled or barbecued chicken.
From Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin, blackrockcellar.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie