The Rhone Valley has built a formidable reputation for its powerful red wines, with varieties such as Syrah leading the northern appellations of Hermitage, Cote-Rotie, Saint-Joseph and Cornas. Grenache has been the dominant variety in the famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation in the south with their spicy voluptuous wines allowing for up to 13 varieties to be blended together.
With great reputation behind such age-worthy wines, it’s easy to overlook the exceptional whites that are produced in this region too, which is why we are bringing you this tasting of some of the best producers and appellations for white wines in the Rhone Valley. Compare and contrast the styles of Viognier produced in the north with Condrieu and the single producer appellation Chateau Grillet. Taste the rare Hermitage Blanc from Domaine Chapoutier’s top vineyard L’Ermite, a 100% Marsanne from a selection of their oldest vines, and finally finishing the evening with Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc from the likes of Clos des Papes and Chateau de Beaucastel.
From what Mark calls the "middle Rhone", or more specifically the Ardeche Hills, the vines are planted on 300 metre south facing slopes which gives a good cooling effect to the vines and really reflects on the style of the wine. Medium-bodied with a lightly aromatic nose of lime, peaches and apricot. There is ample weight on the palate with a lovely refreshing acidity which gives the wine a nice lift, cutting through the natural oiliness that Viognier is often known for. A very pleasant and easy-drinking wine.
Clos des Papes Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc 2016
Despite being 15% ABV, this wine is incredibly refreshing and very well balanced! A blend of 6 equal varieties, Grenache Blanc, Rousanne, Clairette, Picpoul, Bourboulenc and Picardin, this is a complex, aromatic and fruit-driven wine, jam-packed full of stone fruits, apricots, peaches, white flowers, nectarines, with a nice balanced acidity.
Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc Roussanne Vieilles Vignes 2016
Beaucastel's 100% Rousanne is a textbook example of age-worthy CNDPs that go through barrel-fermentation and ageing. From a 3 hectare parcel planted in 1909, this is powerful, weighty, with a distinct oiliness, and slight cloying texture, there are intense tropical notes of pineapples and a hint of mangoes. Intense, with layered complexity, but incredibly young - it would be very interesting to see how this develops in the next 5-10 years.
Guigal Condrieu La Doriane 2016
A blend from 3 vineyards planted on steep terraces, Cote Chatillon, Colombier St Michel Sur Rhone, and Volan St Pierre de Boeuf, vastly different soil types - limestone shale, granite and sand, and granite with irone oxyde respectively. This flagship Condrieu from Guigal is packed full of stone fruits, peaches, apricots, guava and a hint of spice, followed with small zesty finish. Full-bodied, barrel-fermented, warm, waxy and slightly oily, it still retains great freshness nevertheless, and displays great elegance.
Domaine Jamet Condrieu Vernillon 2015
A lighter and leaner style of Condrieu, this is Domane Jamet's second vintage of this Condrieu. Ageing takes place in both barrels and tanks (50:50) for 8 months, providing a fresher style whilst displaying vibrant stone fruits, apricots and honeysuckle. Very balanced acidity gives the wine a good lift and a delicate floral, mineral finish.
Delas Condrieu Clos Boucher 2015
Fermented in new oak casks followed with ageing on lees and battonage for nearly 6 months. This is Delas' top Condrieu coming from its single vineyard Clos Boucher - southern exposures with steep granite slopes that rises above the river. A rich, powerful expression, with intense peach and pineapple notes, ripe concentrated with a hint of sweetness in the fruit. Very aromatic, floral, mineral with a honeysuckle note on the finish.
Chateau Grillet 2011
Intense, lean and aromatic, punchy peach and white blossom aromas underline the fragrant minerality of this wine. The palate is incredibly refreshing and mineral-driven, displaying vibrant zingy acidity and excellent concentration of fruit. Still incredibly young and tight at the moment, but will no doubt age beautifully and gracefully.
Chateau Grillet 1981
After tasting the 2011, tasting something exactly 30 years older is an incredibly exciting and eye-opening experience. This has developed a much richer body but still retaining that lean, mineral character. The nose is very nutty, with a hint of pleasant oxidation, with fruit aromas that include ripe peaches and apricots as well as star fruits. The finish is exceptionally long.
M. Chapoutier Ermitage L'Ermite Blanc 1999
This 100% Marsanne from a 1.5 hectare site at the top of the Hermitage hill produces only 100 cases a year. The 100 year old vines are pruned to very severe and low yields at an altitude of 200 metres. A slightly unconventional wine as Marsanne is rarely used a single varietal, but this is actually relatively well done. It's very heavy, savory, spicy and a little oily. As Robert Parker says, "there is no real fruit character, just glycerin, alcohol, and liquid stones". We would have to agree, but whether this really deserves 100 points as Parker has scored it, we leave this up to you!