New Blends Give The White Wines Of The Rhône Valley An Exciting Future

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France’s Rhône Valley produces distinctive red and white wines, but the former far outweigh the latter for kudos among wine critics. Even so, before the 1970s, when most of the valley’s vignerons sold their wine to negociants, and really not until the next decade was there much interest in Rhone wines. As John Livingston-Longmonth wrote in his monumental The Wines of the Northern Rhône (2005) “the poor cousin of Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne,” “The northern Rhone faces the twenty-first century with its tail apparently up.” Comments on the southern Rhône are less effusive, although the region, which extends from the Alps to the Mediterranean Sea, produces the majority of the wines, mostly red.

Inter-Rhone

Among those reds there are some favored regions, like Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, within which Beaucastel, Chȃteaneuf-du-Pape are well known.  Syrah is the dominant grape of the north (the southern climate is too hot for that varietal) for red wines, while Marsanne and Roussane are grown for the whites.

The white wines of the south have rarely earned high accolades, based on Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc, Clairette, Viognier, Vermentino and others, with most bottlings a blend of grapes. Cooperatives produce most of the wines in the south, but now there are some innovators in the region who are producing wines that are not only of high caliber but of distinctive tastes that diverge from the bland blends that dominate. Here are four (with one from the Northern Rhone) that I recently tasted with summer meals that I was delighted with.

Domaine de la La Janesse

DOMAINE DE LA JANASSE BLANC 2017 ($19.99)—The Cotes du Rhone appellation covers an enormous amount of territory, and this domaine’s part of it is 98 acres near the village of Courthezon, owned by the Sabon family (Aimé oversees the vineyards, his children Christophe and Isabelle make the wines). When writing about wines I try to eschew simple-minded allusions to particular fruit flavors, but on my first sip of this white Rhone, I burst out, “Pears! It tastes exactly like ripe pears!”

A blend of 50% Grenache, 15% Clairette, 15% Bourboulenc (a rare varietal not even mentioned in The Oxford Companion to Wine), 10% Viognier and 10% Roussanne, the wine is pure pleasure, full flavored with minerality from limestone and sandy soils. It ages for a year in a large wooden vat called a foudre, which allows for a degree of oxidation to further flavor the wine. I drank it with a summer salad of fruits, tomatoes, onions and olive oil.

Domaine de L Manarine

DOMAINE LA MANARINE BLANC 2017 ($19.99)—Since 2001 Gilles Gasq has been making predominantly Grenache red wines in the well-regarded region called the Plan de Dieu (God’s plan), but he also makes a 50-50% blend of Clairette and Bourbelenc. After pressing, the juice ages on the lees for an amazing five months, with ten percent of the grapes vinified and aged in neutral casks to undergo malolactic fermentation. The wine has fine fruitiness and acid with a streak of rocky minerality garnered from both limestone and quartz called galet. It was perfect with sautéed swordfish with summer corn.

DOMAINE LA RÉMÉJEANNE LES ARBOUSIERS BLANC 2016 ($19.99)— A higher altitude and cooler climate around the village of Sabran in the foothills of Cevannes gives the wines of Remy Klein and his son Oliver a refined freshness and balance of elegant fruit and tangy acid. Grapes are hand harvested, using indigenous yeasts and aged on the lees for six months. The blend consists of 30% Roussane, 30% Clairette, 20% Viognier (which gives the wine its flowery aroma), 10% Marsanne and 10% Bourbelenc.

Inter-Rhône

DOMAINE DES AMPHORES “ALTITUDE 300” BLANC 2017 ($19.99)— Although this 25-acre Northern Rhône vineyard dates back only to 1992 under owners Philippe and Véronique Grenier, this domaine in Chavanay is in the forefront of modern winemaking, completely organic and biodynamic. In this blend of 80% Roussanne and 20% Marsanne both grapes are full bodied and it has the heft to go well with salmon or chicken, as well as cheeses, either as an apéritif or after the main course.

 

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Getty

France’s Rhône Valley produces distinctive red and white wines, but the former far outweigh the latter for kudos among wine critics. Even so, before the 1970s, when most of the valley’s vignerons sold their wine to negociants, and really not until the next decade was there much interest in Rhone wines. As John Livingston-Longmonth wrote in his monumental The Wines of the Northern Rhône (2005) “the poor cousin of Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne,” “The northern Rhone faces the twenty-first century with its tail apparently up.” Comments on the southern Rhône are less effusive, although the region, which extends from the Alps to the Mediterranean Sea, produces the majority of the wines, mostly red.

Inter-Rhone

Among those reds there are some favored regions, like Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, within which Beaucastel, Chȃteaneuf-du-Pape are well known.  Syrah is the dominant grape of the north (the southern climate is too hot for that varietal) for red wines, while Marsanne and Roussane are grown for the whites.

The white wines of the south have rarely earned high accolades, based on Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc, Clairette, Viognier, Vermentino and others, with most bottlings a blend of grapes. Cooperatives produce most of the wines in the south, but now there are some innovators in the region who are producing wines that are not only of high caliber but of distinctive tastes that diverge from the bland blends that dominate. Here are four (with one from the Northern Rhone) that I recently tasted with summer meals that I was delighted with.

Domaine de la La Janesse

DOMAINE DE LA JANASSE BLANC 2017 ($19.99)—The Cotes du Rhone appellation covers an enormous amount of territory, and this domaine’s part of it is 98 acres near the village of Courthezon, owned by the Sabon family (Aimé oversees the vineyards, his children Christophe and Isabelle make the wines). When writing about wines I try to eschew simple-minded allusions to particular fruit flavors, but on my first sip of this white Rhone, I burst out, “Pears! It tastes exactly like ripe pears!”

A blend of 50% Grenache, 15% Clairette, 15% Bourboulenc (a rare varietal not even mentioned in The Oxford Companion to Wine), 10% Viognier and 10% Roussanne, the wine is pure pleasure, full flavored with minerality from limestone and sandy soils. It ages for a year in a large wooden vat called a foudre, which allows for a degree of oxidation to further flavor the wine. I drank it with a summer salad of fruits, tomatoes, onions and olive oil.

Domaine de L Manarine

DOMAINE LA MANARINE BLANC 2017 ($19.99)—Since 2001 Gilles Gasq has been making predominantly Grenache red wines in the well-regarded region called the Plan de Dieu (God’s plan), but he also makes a 50-50% blend of Clairette and Bourbelenc. After pressing, the juice ages on the lees for an amazing five months, with ten percent of the grapes vinified and aged in neutral casks to undergo malolactic fermentation. The wine has fine fruitiness and acid with a streak of rocky minerality garnered from both limestone and quartz called galet. It was perfect with sautéed swordfish with summer corn.

DOMAINE LA RÉMÉJEANNE LES ARBOUSIERS BLANC 2016 ($19.99)— A higher altitude and cooler climate around the village of Sabran in the foothills of Cevannes gives the wines of Remy Klein and his son Oliver a refined freshness and balance of elegant fruit and tangy acid. Grapes are hand harvested, using indigenous yeasts and aged on the lees for six months. The blend consists of 30% Roussane, 30% Clairette, 20% Viognier (which gives the wine its flowery aroma), 10% Marsanne and 10% Bourbelenc.

Inter-Rhône

DOMAINE DES AMPHORES “ALTITUDE 300” BLANC 2017 ($19.99)— Although this 25-acre Northern Rhône vineyard dates back only to 1992 under owners Philippe and Véronique Grenier, this domaine in Chavanay is in the forefront of modern winemaking, completely organic and biodynamic. In this blend of 80% Roussanne and 20% Marsanne both grapes are full bodied and it has the heft to go well with salmon or chicken, as well as cheeses, either as an apéritif or after the main course.

 

John Mariani is an author and journalist of 40 years standing, and an author of 15 books. He has been called by the Philadelphia Inquirer, “the most influential food-wi

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