France’s Rhône Valley produces a river of wine and most of it red, stretching from south of its gastronomic capital, Lyons to the Mediterranean coast. The tiny 5% of white wine is often eclipsed by the region’s more famous red wines, especially from Chateauneuf-du-Pape (“new palace of the Pope”, when the papacy moved from Rome to Avignon during the 1400s).
Côtes du Rhône is the generic classification for any wine from the Rhône River Valley but the vast majority are located in the southern half of the valley.
The wines are dry and generally full-bodied reflecting the sunny Mediterranean climate.
Most white wines are made from a blend of local grapes. Grenache Blanc, a white relation of the black-skinned Grenache Noir, produces a full-bodied apple–like fruity wine. Clairette gives a delicately floral aroma. Both Bourboulenc and Piquepoul balance the blend with a crisp texture and refreshing natural acidity.
However, the reputation for simple and reliable white wines has been energised and greatly enhanced with a growing influence of including the aromatic varieties from the northern half of the Rhône Valley.
The colour white permeates the wines’ aromas – white lilies, jasmine, pale peaches and white currant fruits. Typical flavours include cake spices, nut, honeysuckle, peach and golden apple.
Marsanne adds hazelnut richness while Roussanne contributes a honeysuckle fragrance. Since the late nineties, the fashionable Viognier has been used increasingly to give a musky apricot note and also appears solo as a single varietal wine.
Their warm and ripe flavours make them lovely white wines for the winter. Who needs snow?
Côte du Rhône Blanc 2016, E. Guigal
€13 – Available online at WinesOfTheWorld.ie
An old reliable that always over-delivers. Delicious, concentrated ripe nectarine flavours expand in the mouth and echo on the long finish.
Food friend: Accompany with baked courgettes stuffed with smoked Gubbeen cheese and toasted pine nuts.
Belleruche Blanc 2015, M. Chapoutier, Côte du Rhône
€15.99 – Available at Sweeney’s, Glasnevin; Nectar Wines, 3 Sandyford Village and O’Driscoll’s, Cork.
Deep layers of peach and ripe red apple. Smooth with the fruity ripeness lingering long on the finish.
Food friend: Perfect with grilled pork chops topped with apple, sage and breadcrumb.
Zéphyr 2016, Les Deux Cols, Côte du Rhône
14.5% ABV (organic grapes)
€22.50 at Searson’s, Monkstown; 64 Wine, Glasthule and Donnybrook Fair.
Made from 100% Roussanne organic grapes and barrel fermented for added richness. Delicious floral honeysuckle exotica with wild flowers and a “Crunchie” honeycomb centre hiding the alcohol.
Food friend: Match with chunks of oven roasted mushrooms, courgettes, aubergines and peppers, drizzled with olive oil.
Viognier 2016, Maison Les Alexandrins, Nicolas Perrin, Vin de France
€18.99 – Availble in Dublin at Clontarf Wines; Morton’s, Ranelagh; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street and Wineonline.ie
Perfumed aromas follow on the palate with eductive creamy apricot flesh with white pepper and fresh pulp. A Mimosa of a wine.
Food friend: Sustain the exotica with an oriental dish of stir-fried rice with chicken, star anise, scallions and ginger.
Les Travers 2016, Domaine Brusset, AC Cairanne
€20 at all Mitchell & Son outlets: CHQ and Glasthule including Avoca Handweavers in Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne.
Fragrant and complex with aromas of honeysuckle and white flowers. Tasty and smooth texture with layers of floral fruits.
Food friend: Enjoy with chicken lightly curried in coconut milk with toasted almonds.
Domaine de Fondrèche 2015, AC Ventoux
€19.95 at Searson’s, Monkstown.
Intense, honeyed and spicy aromas. Concentrated palate with tangy fruit and a peppery savoury finish.
Food friend: Try with belly of pork roasted on sprigs of rosemary.
Liam Campbell is one of Ireland’s most experienced wine writers. His work has been featured in the pages of numerous publications, most recently as the Wine & Drinks Editor for The Irish Independent, as well as in Irish Homes, Easy Food and The Dubliner magazines.
Besides writing, his involvement in the world of wine goes deeper: he’s an approved WSET educator and holder of a WSET Diploma, Diploma in Craft Beer & Cider, and he has worked as judge in international wine competitions and as a wine consultant.