Article

White Rhone: Singing in the Rhone

It might be best known for its reds, but the Rhone’s whites have an awful lot to offer too, as Clinton Cawood and a team of tasters discover


It’s tough growing up in the long shadow cast by the great red wines of the Rhône. From Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage down to Gigondas, this is a region that has defined itself largely by its reds. Little wonder then, that white wines from the Rhône have been so neglected.

But perhaps we’re missing a trick here. At this year’s Sommelier Wine Awards, the feedback from tasters of the white Rhônes was among the most enthusiastic of the entire competition. So we resolved to give the white wines from the Rhône a proper outing in a tasting all their own.

With such great diversity, both stylistically and in terms of price, our sommelier panel was already positively predisposed when they arrived on the day.

A compact flight of 20 white Rhônes (plus four New World ringers), was followed by a short run of six Condrieus, giving a good overview of not only blended Rhône whites, but single-varietal Viognier, with prices ranging from £5.33 to £70, per bottle ex-VAT, and including a small taste of what other countries are doing with these varietals.

We weren’t disappointed. There were, of course, a few surprises, both good and bad. But one thing was clear – white Rhône has what it takes to make its name on its own.


TASTING PANEL

Luigi Buonanno, Etrusca Restaurants Paulo Brammer, ETM Group
Clinton Cawood, Imbibe Daniel Kapp, Clos Maggiore Claire Love, Loves Restaurant Emily O’Hare, River Cafe & WhizzBangPop Sandra Rodrigues, Gaucho
Fionnuala Synnott, Pollen Street Social


HOW IT WORKED:
Agents were able to submit wines without any restriction on price. Wines were tasted blind, with a separate Condrieu flight, and tasters aware that there were some New World ringers made from Rhône varietals. Each wine was marked out of 20, with value for money being taken into account. Scores were then collated to give each wine an average rating out of 100. Only wines with scores over 60 are listed here. All wines are available to the UK on-trade, and all prices are ex-VAT trade prices.


RESULTS

WHITE RHONE
84 M Chapoutier: Ermitage Blanc De l’Orée 2008
‘Smells like expensive perfume – layered and deep. Thrilling acidity,’ EO. ‘Pure fruit, with slight spice – this shows restraint and elegance. Good acidity, and great mouthfeel, with a long finish,’ CC. ‘Soft and elegant, this feels youthful, but with a really good balance of concentration and complexity,’ CL.
£70.00, Mentzendorff,
020 7840 3600

78 John Duval ‘Plexus’ Barossa Valley Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier 2010, Australia
‘Invigorating mouthfeel, with some lemon, hints of honey and a long finish,’ EO. ‘Good integration of the fruit and oak, but maybe not as expressive as some other wines here. The fruit is ripe and full, with some good acidity,’ DK.
£14.08, Liberty Wines,
020 7819 0333

78 Côtes du Rhône Blanc Guy Louis, Tardieu-Laurent 2009
‘Restrained nose, but still showing ripe stonefruit – mango and nectarine. The same considered winemaking is evident on the palate, with ripe fruit and oak all in balance. Worth the money,’ CC. ‘A little herbal on the nose, with attractive minerality and well-integrated oak,’ FS.
£14.16, Corney & Barrow,
020 7265 2400

77 Saint-Peray, Tardieu-Laurent 2009
‘Tropical aromas, vanilla and lemon curd. Balanced on the palate, with a lovely herbal finish. An unusual wine,’ CL. ‘Appealing vanilla notes on the nose, with good texture and a lovely chewy, savoury side to it,’ FS.
£15.83, Corney & Barrow,
020 7265 240

76 M Chapoutier Hermitage, Chante-Alouette 2007
‘With beeswax, and some saltiness, this had really good richness and intensity on the palate. A fabulous food wine,’ EO. ‘This was a very balanced wine, with great oak and fruit presence, with spice coming through on the finish. Nice acidity, with a long, powerful finish. One of the best wines here,’ DK.
£24.80, Mentzendorff,
020 7840 3600

75 Hermitage Blanc, Blanche, Jean-Louis Chave Selection, 2006
‘Custard, hazelnut and ripe melon, with real elegance on the palate, yet masculine and powerful. Lovely and concentrated,’ PB. ‘Croissant and custard – quite sweet on the nose. Lacking acidity at times, but a good, sweet-ish finish,’ LB.
£28.89, Justerini & Brooks,
020 7484 6400

74 Côtes du Rhône Blanc Saint Cosme 2010
‘Defined, and quite ripe. Opulent, with huge fruit and good oak integration,’
PB. ‘White flowers and elderflowers on the nose, with lime zest and apples. Complex flavours on the palate, with citrus, green apples, pears, followed by strong mineral aftertaste,’ SR.
£10.89, Bibendum Wine,
020 7722 7354

73 Crozes Hermitage, Blanc, Domaine Etienne Pochon, 2009
‘Fragrant white peach, black tea and sage on the nose. Elegance on the palate, with fresh nectarine – a good match with creamy starters,’ EO. ‘Attractively aromatic, well balanced and fresh. Subtle flavour on the palate,’ FS.
£8.48, Justerini & Brooks,
020 7484 6400

71 Mitchelton Airstrip Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier 2009, Australia
‘Definitely a wine for grown ups – it has exactly the complexity and character that restaurants should be showcasing. A great food wine, and excellent value,’ FS. ‘Complex flavours, showing its development. Hints of petrol and rubber, followed by citrus notes. Long finish, showing mineral and citrus flavours,’ SR.
£12.20, Bibendum Wine,
020 7722 7354

71 Domaine Chante Cigale Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2010
‘White blossoms and apple flavours on a clean palate, with wonderful acidity and length,’ LB. ‘Ripe stronefruit, oak and wet stone aromas on the nose. Full fruit on the palate, in New World style, with
a long finish. This is full-bodied, able
to hold up roast white meats,’ DK.
£13.78, Boutinot, 0161 908 1300

71 Guigal Saint Joseph Lieu Dit Blanc 2007
‘Ripe plum and savoury notes translate into a chewy texture on the palate, with pronounced oak,’ FS. ‘A little bit smoky, with a smooth, warm palate, along with some good acidity,’ LB.
£17.02, John E Fells & Sons,
01442 870900

70 Domaine Chante Cigale Les Vignes d’Alexandre Blanc 2010
‘Lovely nose: peaches, apples, stonefruit and spice. Fuller on the palate, with nice acidity and a good finish. Very nice wine for the price,’ DK. ‘Complexity, with citrus and warm stone fruit, with a balance of fruit and acidity on the palate,’ CL.
£6.98, Boutinot, 0161 908 1300

70 Crozes Hermitage Blanc Domaine Colombier 2010
‘Sweet on the nose, with candied apples, sweet spices, and stony minerality. Good structure on the palate,’ DK. ‘Primary fruit on the nose, followed by cream. Plenty of fruit on the palate too,’ PB.
£12.75, Bibendum Wine,
020 7722 7354

69 Vidal-Fleury Crozes Hermitage 2009
‘Marmalade and quince jelly, followed by pink grapefruit. An interesting palate: marmalade and fresh citrus, followed by surprising sweet spice flavours,’ SR. ‘Good fruit. Soft and rounded, with creamy acidity. Rich and full,’ PB.
£10.86, Louis Latour Agencies,
020 7409 7276

68 La Fleur Solitaire Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2010
‘Soft peach fruit on the nose, with a slight spiciness. Quite a full, ripe wine
on the palate, but accessible, full of fruit, and great value,’ CC. ‘Attractive nose, with straw, white pear and Sicilian lemon, and some nutty macadamia flavours. Complexity and balance – very good
at the price,’ EO.
£5.33, Boutinot, 0161 908 1300

68 Tabali Viognier Reserve, 2010, Chile
‘Feels youthful and fresh, with good concentration of fruit on the palate, with ripe tropical notes on the mid-palate, finishing with citrus acidity, keeping it fresh. A good offering with food,’ CL. ‘Ripe citrus fruit, apple, pear, and fresh flowers, like orange blossom, with hints of nuttiness. A long finish with some refreshing ripe lemon flavour,’ SR.
£5.58, Boutinot, 0161 908 1300

68 Vidal-Fleury Côtes du Rhône Viognier 2010
‘Appealing candied nose, with tropical overtones. These aromas follow through on the palate, with a lovely, silky mouthfeel,’ FS. ‘A floral, sweet fruit nose, followed by minerality on the palate, with a bit of a sour finish, but with decent weight and acidity,’ DK.
£7.72, Louis Latour Agencies,
020 7409 7276

67 Graham Beck Viognier 2009, South Africa
‘An unusual wine, with ripe citrus and a touch of smokiness. New World on the nose,’ PB. ‘This is New World in style, with a smokier, toastier nose than the others, and riper, fuller fruit. More oak characteristics than tertiary ones,’ DK.
£7.82, Bibendum Wine,
020 7722 7354

67 E.Guigal Crozes Hermitage Blanc 2008
‘Punchy nose, with good concentration, melon and tropical fruit aromas, as well as floral notes, and the added complexity of honeysuckle. It delivers these promises with a soft, elegant finish. A carefully-made, lovely representative of white Rhône,’ CL. ‘An oak nose, with butter, vanilla, and peach blossom. Good texture, but the oak needs integration,’ PB.
£10.30, John E Fells & Sons,
01442 870900

66 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Bosquet des Papes Blanc 2010
‘Fresh flower and citrus notes, followed by ripe pear and apple, with medium acidity, and surprising basil flavours. These are followed by ripe orange and lemon flavours,’ SR. ‘Lots of spice, herbs and aromatics, including quince and mint. Attractive, but not formulaic, with sun-ripened fruit – plump and fresh,’ EO.
£15.45, Flint Wines, 020 7582 2500

65 Domaine Maby White Lirac 2010
‘Apple pie, sweet pear and spice aromas, with a clean, crisp palate that builds into fruity acidity, with a fresh finish,’ CC. ‘Mineral, chalky, dry palate, with good freshness and length,’ LB.
£8.50, Yapp Brothers Wine
Merchants, 01747 860423

65 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Blanc, Château Mont Redon, 2009
‘Light on the nose, with green fruits showing through, and with some stonefruit,’ DK. ‘Bright fruit on the nose – developed and concentrated, with good weight behind it, and lots of white pepper spice. White peach and nectarine on the palate,’ EO.
£14.51, Justerini & Brooks,
020 7484 6400

60 Ventoux Blanc Les Combes TerraVentoux 2009
‘Minerality and ripe quince and orange fruit. Very herbaceous on the palate, without the ripe fruit from the nose, but green pineapple and green apple instead,’ SR. ‘Fleshy fruit, pear skin, and slight perfumed aromas, followed by much more pear on the palate,’ CC.
£5.83, Bibendum Wine,
020 7722 7354

Also tasted:
La Villasse Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2010


CONDRIEU
89 E Guigal Condrieu La Doriane 2008
‘Nutty and creamy on the nose, followed by a softness on the palate, with lots of intensity,’ EO. ‘Acidity keeps the concentrated fruit character fresh and helps the appeal of this wine.’ CL. ‘The nose is slightly smoky, with rose petals and raspberries. Great balance, a supple palate, and great acidity. An ideal match for poached lobster,’ LB.
£33.33, John E Fells & Sons,
01442 870900

83 Domaine du Monteillet Condrieu Les Grandes Chaillées 2009
‘Rich, decadent aromas, with lovely complexity, good concentration, and a really fresh finish. This is a potentially lovely food match,’ CL. ‘Some well-placed oak, with great orange acidity that carries right through to the finish, making this incredibly moreish. A great wine for pairing with food,’ CC.
£22.63, Boutinot, 0161 908 1300

82 Condrieu Les Ravines Robert Niero 2008
‘Complex yet delicate, with camomile, grape, apple and floral notes. Showing more herbaceous aspects on the nose, with good fruit concentration, and a silky, long aftertaste,’ SR. ‘Very exciting on the nose, with a mix of summer fruits, wet stones, and burnt wax. On the palate, very herbaceous, with similar fruit and oak flavours as there are on the nose – a very different Condrieu,’ DK.
£24.82, Bibendum Wine,
020 7722 7354

79 Condrieu, André Perret, 2009
‘Unashamedly Viognier, with tropical fruit, floral notes and a round, full mouthfeel. There’s elegance here, though, and good food-matching potential,’ CC. ‘Lovely warm aromas of tropical fruit, and this follows through to the palate, with good length,’ CL.
£20.56, Justerini & Brooks,
020 7484 6400

78 Condrieu, Le Grand Vallon, François Villard, 2009
‘Interesting savoury character, with a dash of menthol on the nose, and some honey on the palate. This has some character,’ FS. ‘Toasted aromas, as well as yellow-pepper notes. This was particularly concentrated and focused, with excellent vibrant acidity and plenty of freshness. It’s youthful and will improve over time, but is already enjoyable,’ PB.
£27.64, Justerini & Brooks,
020 7484 6400

65 Vidal-Fleury Condrieu 2007
‘A developing nose, with some cherry notes, hints of wet forest floor and peach blossom. There is less weight on the palate than on the nose, and it shows impressive elegance and sophistication in its mouthfeel,’ PB. ‘Already complex, and showing development – flowers, fruit and oak notes. It offers a great, fresh fruit structure, with some suggestions of refreshing citrus. Smooth and silky,’ SR.
£27.30, Louis Latour Agencies,
020 7409 7276

Many thanks to Chiswell Street Dining Rooms for hosting the tasting, and for
all of their help on the day.


PANEL COMMENTS

Luigi Buonanno, Etrusca Restaurants
‘It was interesting to taste white Rhône for a change. I think a lot of people are scared of it, but overall we had a good flight. For me, the leitmotif was the dryness, or chalkiness, of the wines. I’m not a big fan of Viognier, but I love Condrieu, and these were outstanding. The problem is the price point – there’s no entry level so it doesn’t afford people the opportunity to find out what it’s about.’

Paulo Brammer, ETM Group
‘A really impressive flight! I found very good value examples at the lower end, showing varietal expression, and at the top end it was all about the classic texture and superb mouthfeel. They were mostly drinking well, and with most fine wines from classic regions released too early, we should enjoy this opportunity. Long term ageability may be an issue in some of them owing to low acid levels.’

Clinton Cawood, Imbibe
‘With such a variety in both price and style, there was almost something for every occasion here – from gastropub wines, to prestige whites for top end restaurants. These weren’t cheap, but it was gratifying to see such consistency in quality. Only a few wines failed to reach the high standards set here, all too often as a result of excessive oak. On the whole: characterful, food-friendly wines, that deserve to be seen more on UK wine lists.’

Daniel Kapp, Clos Maggiore
‘I thought these were great. As a varietal they can be tougher to shift, but these were user-friendly. You could take what someone usually likes, and convert them. All offered good acidity, which is a big part of food pairing. The Condrieux are hand sells, but I could definitely shift them. Some were classics, while others had fruit that you really wouldn’t expect from Viognier.’

Claire Love, Loves Restaurant
‘With our Asian-influenced menu, the stocks are complex, and we need to find wines that can stand up to them. There were one or two wines here that weren’t ready, that showed a touch too much oak – I don’t see why people need to rush things. You have to either give it time, or don’t use oak and let the fruit shine through. The Condrieux, as top-end Rhône, overdelivered, in my opinion.’

Emily O’Hare, River Cafe and WhizzBangPop
‘I love white Rhône – there’s nothing formulaic about it. It’s so food friendly too. There was great balance, and so little oak, yet an intensity on the palate. There’s a Mediterranean quality – herbal, with sweet sage, black olive flavours. The Condrieux were balanced and elegant, reflecting their price tag, with definite food friendliness. In all, I thought prices were very fair, and really liked the entry level wines.’

Sandra Rodrigues, Gaucho
‘I thought the wines were most interesting between £10 and £15. The lower prices were characterised by this citrus freshness and minerality, while the mid- to high-priced wines were about the integration of oak and fruit. I could definitely sell these. Some were commercial, and for sommeliers that’s sometimes nice, but you also need to have something special on the side.’

Fionnuala Synnott, Pollen Street Social
‘There were some real peaks and troughs here. Some wines lacked balance, but there was a great variety, from butterscotch to herbal notes, via ripe peach and slightly tropical flavours. Some of the more sophisticated wines showcased attractive glycerol notes, and minerality. White Rhône’s good with food because of all those levels – you could nurse the same bottle throughout a meal.’


CONCLUSIONS

Quality was particularly high. Excluding the four New World ringers, the average overall score was 72% – among our highest ever. Even without the high-scoring Condrieux, the average was an impressive 70%. Average prices were also high, though, coming in at £15.44 (£17.88 with the Condrieux).

Tasters weren’t put off by the prices and were confident they could hand sell all but the most expensive wines. A few lamented a lack of entry-level Condrieu wines, making the region less accessible than most.

The Condrieu flight was a hit, with scores averaging out at 79%, but with a high average price: £26.05. Panellists were impressed, by and large, and commented on the food-friendliness of this flight in particular.

The four ringers mostly slipped under the radar, gaining high scores (average 71%). An oaky smokiness gave the game away for the one South African. Most impressively, John Duval’s Plexus from the Barossa Valley came in second place, at a fraction of the cost of Chapoutier’s first-place wine, and without causing our panel to bat an eyelid.


Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – September/October 2011

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