White Wines From The Rhone Valley Of France
T he red wines of the Rhone Valley in southeastern France have been famous among wine drinkers for decades. The region produces powerful, exotic, flavorful wines that are among the best in the world.
Rhone’s white wines, which are equally interesting, have only recently become popular. And compared to whites from Bordeaux and Burgundy, the wines from the Rhone valley are bargains.
I recently tried three white Rhones, and while each was distinctive, they were all incredibly good wines. In 2018 white wine grapes represented only seven percent of the total production in the Rhone Valley, but white grapes are being planted to meet market demand.
The grapes of the Rhone will not be familiar to Bordeaux and Burgundy lovers, but they make wonderful wines. Many of those grapes are now popular in California, such as marsanne, roussanne, grenache blanc and viognier.
In fact, my favorite white is Austin Hope’s Treana Blanc, a blend of viognier and marsanne, with a little roussanne added in some years. It is from Paso Robles.
There are many good, inexpensive white wines available now, and the warm days of September and October are a perfect time to explore and try some of them. The three I recently tasted and highly recommend are:
Michel Gassier Costières de Nîmes Nostre Païs Blanc 2017
Domaine de la Solitude Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2017
Jean-Luc Colombo Côtes du Rhône Les Abeilles Blanc 2016
Nostre Païs Blanc ($19-21): The name means “our land,” which is appropriate since Michel Gassier’s family has owned vineyards in Costières de Nîmes for four generations. White wine grapes thrive in the region because of thermal breezes from the Mediterranean as well as cooling winds from the Massif Central.
The wine is a pale yellow in the glass with citrus and floral aromas. This is a full-bodied, elegant white with citrus flavors topped by mineral notes and a pleasant finish.
Gassier harvests his whites just before the peak of maturity to preserve the natural acidity in the grapes. The grapes are hand harvested and undego direct pneumatic pressing. Natural yeast fermentation in tanks brings out the unique flavors of the region.
In is then aged for six months, in 50 percent French oak and 50 percent cement tanks. The wine is 45 percent grenache blanc, 30 percent roussanne, 10 percent clairette, 10 percent viognier and five percent bourboulenc . The average age of the vines is 20-45 years.
La Solitude ($14-16): This beautiful wine is produced by the Lançon family, which has been making wines for more than five centuries.
Once hand-harvested and sorted, the grapes undergo gentle pneumatic pressing. The juice then goes through temperature-controlled fermentation and is aged for eight months in stainless steel vats.
The wine is a clear, pale lemon yellow with inviting aromas of flowers, honeysuckle and peaches. On the palate it is round, with citrus and peach notes followed by a light almond finish.
The blend is 60 percent clairette, 30 percent viognier and 10 percent grenache blanc. The vines average 50 years old and grow in clay and limestone soil.
Colombo Les Abeilles ($12-14): The name means “the bees,” in honor of the insect that plays a crucial role in biodiversity by pollinating plants. A portion of the sales price of each bottle is donated to research into colony collapse disorder.
This wine is light straw in color with peach and floral aromas with mineral and herbal notes. On the palate it is crisp and well balanced with flavors of pear, stone fruit and citrus with hints of almond.
The grapes are hand-picked from vineyards in the heart of the Côtes du Rhône near Cairanne, Rasteau and Vacqueyras. All vineyard work is done manually and without the use of pesticides or irrigation.
Fermentation takes place at a low temperature in stainless steel tanks. The clairette is aged in a stainless steel tanks, while the roussanne matures in 2- to 5-year-old oak barrels for six months. The wine is 80 percent clairette and 20 percent roussanne.
All of these wines will be best if you drink them in one to three years, although I have had some wines with white Rhone grapes that were outstanding 10 years after bottling.
These wines will give you an idea of where to start, but your explorations of the Rhone Valley whites are limited only by your imagination. Your favorite wine merchant can point you to some great bargains.
Winery: The producers of these wines are all well known in the Rhone Valley and internationally.
Michel Gassier has encyclopedic knowledge of the wines and terroirs of the Rhône as well as his native Costières de Nîmes, and loves to experiment.
Michel and his wife Tina, are helping to establish a new level of quality for Costières de Nîmes without forsaking the uniqueness of the terroir. They nurture their land, farming organically, promoting biodiversity, and respecting their employees as much as their vines. They are certified organic farmers.
The Lançon family, direct descendants of the prominent Barberini family of Rome, own Domaine de la Solitude which was created in the 17th Century. Many years later, in the 1980s, Michel and Jean Lançon decided to take the future of Domaine de la Solitude into their own hands.
They turned their attention to the 86 acres of red grapes and 14.8 acres of white grapes, adopting sustainable farming practices. The estate has not used fertilizer in more than 10 years. Today, Michel’s son, Florent Lançon, controls the day-to-day operations through a delicate mix of innovation and tradition.
Hailed as a winemaking wizard of the Rhône, Jean-Luc Colombo has achieved a high-profile international reputation for making innovative wines that are original, memorable and bursting with personality.
Colombo introduced innovative methods in his vineyards and throughout the production process based on a respect for nature and his fundamental belief that good wine is the culmination of three key elements: terroir, human endeavor and modern winemaking techniques. He works closely with his wife, Anne, and daughter, Laura, to craft their offerings.
Jean-Luc Colombo produces some outstanding reds, including a Cornas that is 100 percent syrah.
Goes with: We had the Nostre Païs and La Solitude with ordinary meals of chicken soup and fried chicken, respectively. The wines were perfect, adding an element of elegance to ordinary weekday meals.
The fresh fruit and crisp acidity of both wines made them especially tasty with the food. All three of these wines are great with food.
We paired the Colombo Les Abeilles with a special dinner of king crab legs. The occasion was the return of my step-daughter Mary Ellen from Brazil for a family visit. We hadn’t seen her in several years, so it was a festive occasion.
The wine couldn’t have been better, with the crispness of the wine cutting through the succulent crab dipped in melted butter. The pear and citrus flavors offered a nice counter to the rich crab.
These wines all have enough body you could pair them with many chicken dishes, grilled lamb or pork, roast duck, shrimp and many types of seafood.
If you have questions about wine you can email Dennis Sodomka at firstname.lastname@example.org
Looking For Great Flavor? Don't Forget White Rhones
White Wines From The Rhone Valley Of France