“White wines from the Rhône just don’t sell,” lamented one retailer. He may be right, but I hope that will change in the near future. The Rhône Valley is divided into two parts, north and south (or septentrional and méridional if you are French). The northern part is much smaller and the wines, red and white, are lighter and more elegant. The south is hot; not the sort of place where you would expect to find quality white wines. In the past, the rare examples were a little clumsy and alcoholic, yet quality has shot up in recent years. Even now alcohol levels are never feeble, but with food, the wines can really shine. The northern Rhône always had Condrieu and white Hermitage, now joined by some excellent wines from Saint Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Péray.
White Châteauneuf-du-Pape is possibly the best-known southern wine, but some of the more enterprising producers in other nearby villages such as Vacqueyras, Cairanne, as well as Côtes du Rhône Villages and the Ventoux now make small quantities of interesting wines.
They are invariably made from a blend of grape varieties that include Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Clairette and increasingly, Viognier. Typically they have a sumptuous broad richness that goes really well with food, as well as the all-important acidity that retains interest and balance. They make a great partner for barbequed fish, chicken and pork as well as grilled butternut squash and sweet potato. They can take robust spicing, even a little chilli, and certainly herbs. As wine lovers travel the world looking for alternatives to white Burgundy, the serious white wines of both parts of the Rhône are starting to look like good value. True, there isn’t a huge amount under €15, but if you prepared to pay €15-€20 for a white wine, there are some excellent wines that offer great value. And once you venture over €20, there are some stunning wines.
Three white wines from the south are amongst the finest I have tasted so far this year. They include the Montirius below, the stunning Clos du Cailloux Vacqueyras Blanc – 64 Wines in Glasthule tell me they still have a few bottles for €38, and the single vineyard Echalas from Clos Bellane (€28.99 from Cabot & Co), one of my all-time favourite whites. I have featured the Paradou Viognier here before (€14.99, Searsons & The Drink Store). It is a delicious southern white at an amazingly cheap price given the quality. I have also enjoyed the very tasty Viognier-rich Guigal Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2014 (€16 WinesoftheWorld.ie; Londis, Wexford, and Joyce, Galway). But do ask your local retailer; I would love to discover a few more!
Bottles of the week
Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2015, Chapoutier
Lightly floral aromas, very moreish soft peaches fruits and a refreshing seam of citrus.
Stockists: Molloy’s; Nolan’s; O’Driscoll’s, Caherciveen and Ballinlough; Cass & Co.
Clos Bellane, Valréas Blanc, Côtes du Rhône Villages 2014 Biodynamic
Dried flower aromas, rich exotic fruits, citrus zest and a lingering satisfying finish.
Stockists: Cabot and Co, Westport – www.cabotandco.ie; Grapevine, Dalkey, Dublin – www.onthegrapevine.ie ; McCambridges, Galway.
Domaine de Fondrèche Ventoux Blanc 2015
Rich peaches, lemon zest and toasted nuts, all in one lovely mouthful.
Stockists: 1601 Off Licence; Green Man Wines; Drink Store, D7; 64 Wines; Searsons.
Montirius, Le Domaine, Minéral 2015, Vacqueyras
Floral and lightly honeyed, with wonderful voluptuous rich textured yellow fruits, underpinned by a reviving mineral acidity. Brilliant food wine.
Stockists: Clontarf Wines; 64 Wines.