My On Again Off Again Romance...With Rhone Whites!
(And why they just might be your new favorite fall wine)
I once attended an industry tasting put on by a famed producer from France’s Rhone Valley, and they asked for a show of hands, “How many folks drank white wine from this region on a regular basis?” I immediately raised my hand, and there was laughter as I was the only person!
When I look back I am not sure how many Rhone whites I truly drank the time, but I definitely had a thing for them. Of course, maybe this affection directly relates to my tendency to root for the underdog! After all, reds from the Rhone Valley almost always steal the thunder. Whether we are talking about smoky, meaty Syrahs from the Northern Rhone or yummy, decadent Grenache based blends from the Southern Rhone, I guarantee that most wine lovers immediately think of reds when daydreaming about these regions.
Hence my musings here...let’s get down to the basics...whites in the Northern Rhone are most often blends of Marsanne and Roussanne which both bring broad textures and flavors -- think ripe apple and pear with a touch of chamomile tea and a deep undercurrent of minerality. You will also find the Viognier grape reigning supreme in the Northern Rhone subregions of Condrieu and Chateau Grillet. There’s no mistaking the honeysuckle aromas of Viognier, but here in Europe that aforementioned minerality keeps Viognier fresh and vibrant despite its tendency towards honeyed richness.
In the southern Rhone you will continue to find Marsanne and Roussanne alongside many others -- Grenache Blanc, Clairette, and Picpoul to name a few. As with Southern Rhone reds the French do not shy away from very varied blends down here. And by and large there is even more opulence in the South thanks to the warmer climate.
But back to the more focused topic -- my on again/off again romance with such whites and also why they might be perfect for fall...I thought I had truly fallen out of love with the category after opening a couple of stellar bottles but just finding that they felt flat to me on a personal level. Perhaps I have just drank too many high acid whites in recent years (looking at you Chenin Blanc)! But being a devoted wine nerd I refused to throw in the towel on Rhone whites especially when offered up a very hard to find example from Alain Graillot. Monsieur Graillot founded his domaine in the Northern Rhone commune of Crozes-Hermitage in 1984,, and he has gained cult status for his elegant Syrahs. But lo and behold he makes a white as well -- a blend of mostly Marsanne with a bit of Roussanne. I waited for a perfect late August evening to crack it open with pan roasted chicken thighs and a cauliflower and lentil salad. It checked all those Rhone white boxes I noted before: apple, chamomile, wet stone...and while it certainly offered a full bodied mouthfeel I also found plenty of acidity. (Of course not Chenin acidity -- lol!) But this beauty cut right through the richness of my pseudo fall meal.
So once more, I am back together with Rhone whites -- ready to explore more with all the autumn flavors (even when it’s still 80 degrees outside)!
Rhone Whites Featured At The Exchange:
(and that you might look for at your local wine shop!)
Graillot Crozes-Hermitage Blanc 2019 $40 (Marsanne & Roussanne)
Chave St. Joseph Blanc 2017 $36 (Marsanne & Roussanne)
Souillard Marsanne 2018 $31
Eric Texier Roussanne 2017 $38
Faury Condrieu 2014 $74 (Viognier)
Chave Hermitage Blanc 2012 $297 (Total Unicorn! Marsanne & Roussanne)
Brunier Pigeoulet Blanc 2018 $25 (Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Clairette)
Brunier Vieux Telegraphe Blanc 2014 $83 (Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc)
Brunier Vieux Telegraphe Blanc 2016 $90 (Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc)