This article was first published in The Irish Times, Saturday 9th March, 2019
Tiring of Sauvignon? Bored with Pinot Grigio? Today a few alternatives from one of the less celebrated regions of France. It took a seminar from importers Tindal & Co with Stephane Montez of Domaine de Monteillet to remind me how much I liked these wines. I am a big fan of both red and white wines of the northern Rhône. They rarely have the power or richness of their southern counterparts, but they make up for this with a delicious freshness, purity of fruit and elegance.
Two relatively unknown grapes, Marsanne and Roussanne, are responsible for some very good white wines that should be right up our street. They are typically crisp and dry, low in alcohol and free of oak influence. Yet, talking to importers and retailers, these wines are not an easy sell; several of the larger producers in the region offer these wines, often at very attractive prices, but they are not available in this country, O’Briens being an honourable exception.
Marsanne is said to be the more neutral of the two, with good acidity and clean melon fruits. It is usually blended with Roussanne, which is richer and more aromatic. I appreciate that €30-€40 for a bottle is hardly bargain basement, but compared with top-quality Chardonnay from either Burgundy or the New World, or the great Rieslings from Germany, they represent very good value for money. What’s more, not only do they drink well from the start, but they have an uncanny ability to age for five or more years. I have been buying and stashing away the odd bottle or two over the past few years and now have a modest collection that is providing me with a lots of pleasure.
Searsons has a treasure-trove of northern whites, including the excellent Yann Chave Crozes-Hermitage (€27.95), the Jolivet St. Joseph (€42) and Les Hautes de Monteillet (€24.95). JN Wine has the Coursodon St Joseph Les Silices (€35.95), and various independents stock the Yves Cuilleron Marsanne (€19.95).
Outside of the Rhône, you will find the odd planting of Marsanne and/or Roussanne. You will find both in the Savoie, including some spectacularly good Roussanne. The most famous outpost outside of the region is on the other side of the globe in Victoria, Australia, where Tahbilk has the largest planting of Marsanne in the world. It is ridiculously cheap, drinks well young and ages for ever, taking on amazing honey and nut flavours. Being light- to medium-bodied, these are food-friendly wines, perfect to eat alongside most fish dishes and chicken too. As they are low in alcohol, you can happily sip them on their own. My favourite matches are probably crab with home-made mayo or a creamy pasta dish.
Côtes du Rhône Blanc Les Abeilles 2016, Jean-Luc Colombo
Light refreshing with delicate mellow peach fruits a spicy, herby, edge, good cleansing acidity and a very attractive soft finish. Hake fried in butter with fresh herbs and lemon.
From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie
Crozes-Hermitage 2015, Alain Graillot Organic
Graillot red and white wines are superb, with an ability to improve with age. This is a delightful wine, with subtle plump peaches and apricots, given verve by some tangy lemon zest. Drink solo or with lighter fish and white meats – crab salad or mild herby Thai chicken?
From siyps.com; Mitchell & Son, CHQ, Sandycove and Avoca, Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com
St Joseph ‘Grand Duc du Montillet’ 2017, Domaine du Monteillet
His Les Hautes du Montillet (€24.95) is very good, but this is superb; fresh and intensely floral with lightly textured plump rounded stone fruits, subtle nuts and a long finish. With prawns, scallops or fried brill.
From Searsons, Monkstown, Co Dublin, searsons.com; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com
Tahbilk Marsanne 2018, Nagambie Lakes, Central Victoria
A wonderful wine and a steal at this price. Zesty lemon, apples, and stone fruits with a touch of honey. Drink now or keep 10 years plus. With a spicy pork and pepper stir fry.
From Wines Direct, Mullingar, and Arnotts, Dublin, winesdirect.ie