South­ern Rhône whites

Bet­ter known for its reds, the south­ern Rhône Val­ley also pro­duces char­ac­ter­ful, juicy white wines Ð and not just from Ch‰teauneuf-du-Pape, as Matt Walls re­ports

Decanter - - CONTENTS - Matt Walls is the DWWA Re­gional Chair for Rhône and writes about the re­gion for De­can­ter and other ti­tles

96 wines tasted A buoy­ant re­cep­tion in the tast­ing room for these ex­cel­lent-value, food-friendly blends

If there’s oNe style of wine that is guar­an­teed to make you feel like henry VIII clad in er­mine, it’s white Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Most dry white wines from the south­ern rhône have a cer­tain op­u­lence, flavoured with the kind of fruits that drib­ble down your chin – golden pears, white peaches, blush­ing apri­cots. When bal­anced with fresh­ness, def­i­ni­tion and cut, the wines can be stun­ning; how­ever, they risk be­ing heavy and cor­pu­lent.

the ma­jor­ity of wine made in the south­ern rhône is red – white ac­counts for only some 6% of the to­tal vol­ume. Most of the more in­ter­est­ing wines are blends. there are some lo­cal odd­i­ties, such as Pi­car­dan, but the prin­ci­pal grape va­ri­eties are Bour­boulenc, Clairette, Gre­nache Blanc, Marsanne, rous­sanne and Viog­nier. Most of these pro­duce ful­some wines that have an affin­ity with oak; they usu­ally work bet­ter at the din­ner ta­ble than the bar.

White grapes are grown in small quan­ti­ties across the re­gion, from Mon­téli­mar to Avignon – some sub-re­gions, vil­lages and crus are more suited to pro­duc­ing good whites than oth­ers. the most fa­mous is Châteauneuf-duPape, where the most con­cen­trated and age­wor­thy whites of the south­ern rhône are pro­duced.

Whereas most south­ern whites are best drunk within four years of vin­tage, the best Châteauneufs can age for 30 years or more. thanks to soil types, grape va­ri­eties and wine­mak­ing op­tions, styles vary from medi­um­bod­ied and tense to flam­boy­antly rich. Most pro­duc­ers block mal­o­lac­tic fer­men­ta­tion to re­tain acid­ity, while fer­men­ta­tion and age­ing in oak is com­mon.

ex­cel­lent value

there are three other crus that pro­duce white wine. Vac­queyras, north­east of Châteauneuf, pro­duces a tiny quan­tity from gravel and sand­stone soils. It’s a broad, silky, con­cen­trated style, of­ten with herbal el­e­ments and fresh­ness when made with care. fur­ther north is Cairanne, which is slightly leaner, highly drink­able, but re­tain­ing that trade­mark rhône juici­ness.

on the west bank of the rhône lies Lirac and much of the ter­roir is lit­tered with the peb­bles associated with Châteauneuf. Wines pro­duced here rarely have the same op­u­lence, but they do of­fer a saline, stony edge that can bring fresh­ness – and they’re ex­cel­lent value.

of the ‘named vil­lage’ wines, look out for Laudun on the west bank, no­table for its more lin­ear style. on the east bank, sablet, séguret and Val­réas all of­fer de­li­cious and char­ac­ter­ful op­tions. When it comes to the ba­sic Côtes du rhône ap­pel­la­tion and satel­lite rhône ap­pel­la­tions, such as Luberon, there are bar­gains to be had, but it’s safest to buy on rec­om­men­da­tion.

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