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
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.
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.