Okay, I will admit it, you probably find it surprising that I am spending time on whites, but I am not alone in my admiration of the interesting whites from this souther Rhone region. Fair enough, it the reds for which they are known, but each one of the wine makers that I have visited make about 5% white, and they are worth paying attention to. In fact, in my humble opinion, these whites should have a more prominent position on the world wine stage. They are complex, full bodied, layered, and unique: food whites that can stand up to very rich meals. It does not hurt that I have been sampling a wide variety of the 2001 vintage, which is described as every wine maker with whom I have met over the last two plus weeks, as a spectacular vintage in both quality and quantity, complexity and drinkability. (And, I am learning, these don't always come together.)
The grapes in the white Rhones: Bourboulanc, which adds body and acidity, and it seems that they all use it in a some substantial percentage.
Grenache Blanc, which is like its red counter part the majority of what is grown here in the region, and it, too, adds body, acidity, but also alcohol because of its higher sugar content and a touch of spice. The spice, for me, is different in the white than the red, I get more anise and ginger, a fresher sort of spice.
Roussane, which adds aroma, honey notes, and a bit of a nuttiness...and by the way drinks fabulously by itself in Cullerion's single varietal from the Norther Rhone...
Clairette, which provides a fruitiness, a light quality of freshness and acidity, with a touch of citrus, which often leans toward the pith more than then pulp. The pith, by the way, is the spongy, white membrane that holds the delicious part of the out citrus fruit together. In fact, it is the part we discard, but it is ideal in wine, as opposed to the the fleshy, pulp which is much better served at breakfast, or with a good part of sparkling white at brunch. The pith is a combination of citrus tartness, creamy texture, and a bit of bitter. This word is off putting, but really we like it when it is combined in proper proportion with other flavors, like sweet, sour, and acid: oh, all the components of wine, right!
And, in smaller quantities Picpoul, for freshness, Viognier, which adds body, texture, and honey notes, and Ugni blanc, which seems to be losing popularity here in the region, though it is not clear to me why (yes, learning a lot, but still so much to learn).
In combination these whites often have a bracing acidity balanced with substantial body and fruit, soft honey and herbal notes, the garrgigue, of course, but also a freshness-- the paradoxical balance of seemingly oppositional characteristics, like the mistral. They are designed for food, so don't try this as a sipping wine before dinner because you will likely be disappointed. That said, it need not be a complicated dinner.
I enjoyed the Domaine Palon 2011 Vacqueyras Blanc with a lovely plate of crudité and bread, of course. The wine was particularly good with the olives. The salt and intensity of that cured olive brought out the gentle fruit and waxy texture of the wine.
The Palon is delicious, but won't be in the states for a little while--I will work on that one!
For now, I have a few great options: 2011 Vieille Julliene Cotes du Rhone Blanc $30, this is stunning and a great value. No surprise from the Chateauneuf maker. 2011 Domaine Citadelle Cotes du Rhone Blanc $15, a nice somewhat lighter style, would work as an aperitif. 2010 Gourts de Mautens, Blanc, $75, this one is truly special. Jerome has introduced some of the traditional white varietals back into his vineyard, and he is making a remarkable white that is elegant and complex, with notes of garrigue, honey, apples, apricots...though a very small amount, and I am working on getting a little...will point it out when it comes. I tasted the 2012 today, only in fermentation of 12 days, and it already tastes amazing! 2010 Vieux Telegraph, Chateauneuf de Pape, $75, another remarkable white. This CdP is complex, weighty, but still has finesse and elegance, and that bracing acidity. 2011 Domaine les Ondines, Vacqueryras Blanc, $20. Jeremy is making a beautiful white with an elegant and stylish body, smooth, richness, and zippy acidity. 2011 Sang de Callioux, which I worte about already, but bears repeating...super interesting, earth, and more minerality, with nice round flesh fruit. 2011 Domaine Joncier, Lirac, le blanc, Marine's white has a wildness to it, that I think all of her wines share, it is not rustic, per se, her wines are actually very elegant but also powerful, much like her own spirit. The wine bespeaks the earth from which it comes, a bit unwieldy but so inviting and interesting. (i have to check pricing on a couple of these, as they are not yet in the shop, but they all will be in time!) I also have a few Northern Rhone wine makers, like Cuilleron and Clappe, whose wines I carry, though they do not blend. Instead, they use the grapes I mentioned above in single varietals and they are equally delicious and intriguing...