Pairing White Rhone Wines with Food

Food friendly and versatile varietals from the Northern Rhone


When most people think of the Northern Rhône, they don't think of white wine. It's really no surprise that Viognier (one of the principal white grapes of the region) had nearly gone extinct only fifty years ago, with just eight acres planted across the entire region. Now, Viognier, as well as Marsanne and Roussanne, have spread across the world. Viognier, being the most popular of these varietals, has found success in South America, Australia, California and even Virginia. Frankly, we're lucky to have Viognier in our arsenal of food-friendly wines because its versatility allows it to pair well with some of the more difficult wine-pairing cuisines around the world; namely Indian, Asian and vegetarian foods. It also has the ability to stand up against moderately spicy foods.

Marsanne and Roussane have not had as much success as Viognier, but they are certainly worth seeking out as they are both truly unique grapes. While they are the only grapes permitted in Northern Rhône whites such as Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Joseph, you can also find varietal bottlings from the Rhône-Rangers in California and in Austrailia. 

Exploration is important, but the wines and recipes I’ve put together are a great start. I think you’ll find that Viognier, Marsanne and Roussane deserve a place in your repertoire.

Photo courtesy LollyKnit via Flickr/CC

Viognier with Roasted Duck

Roasted Duck is an excellent pairing for Viognier. The sweet, gamey and succulent meat pairs perfectly with the wine’s medium-dry profile, while the wine’s acidity cuts through the rich fat or heavy and sometimes-spicy sauces used on duck.  

In this case, the Viognier added masses of floral and spice notes, complementing the cinnamon and cardamom on the duck. Its velvety textures excited the palate but didn’t overwhelm. Instead, it turned out to be a perfect balance of complementing textures and flavors. 

2009 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Viognier Secret de Famille - The nose was highly expressive and leapt from the glass with a bouquet of white flowers, kiwi, pineapple fruit and raw almond. On the palate, it was smooth with a plush yet balanced body, showing citrus-tinged mango and notes of roasted cashew. The finish was fresh yet staying with tropical fruits and a hint of spice.

Get the recipe!

Viognier with Asian Cuisine

I find Asian cuisine to be one of the most difficult to pair with wine. For the longest time, I simply gave up. Then one day I was served an off-dry Riesling and a world of possibilities opened up to me. Viognier shares many of the same qualities which allow it to pair well with Asian cuisine. Its intense aromas and flavors mix with spice, calming hints of residual sugar and plush texture, allowing it to pair with a large number of dishes from Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai influences.

Thai Chicken Coconut Soup (Tom Kha Gai) made for a great pairing with Viognier. The coconut milk added masses of depth and flavors to the Viognier, while the herbs and spices complemented each other and made for a medley of balanced flavors. I wouldn’t try this same pairing with a New World Viognier. In that case, a Thai Peanut sauce would be a perfect fit.

2006 Domaine Triennes Viognier Sainte Fleur - The nose was reticent at first, but with coaxing it revealed aromas of fresh peach, spring floral notes, spice and minerals. On the palate, it had a silky, full body with notes of apple, peach and ginger. Inner floral and mineral notes came forward as this wine's mouthwatering acidity refreshed the palate into the finish with a hint of ginger lingering through the close.

Get the recipe!

Marsanne with Steamed Lobster

There is really nothing like a fresh steamed lobster. It may intimidate the beginner, but I can assure you that once you’ve done it yourself, you’ll find it to be well worth overcoming your fears. However, deciding what to pair with lobster can be just as difficult, and that’s where Marsanne comes in. The Marsanne has the perfect mix of aromatics and flavors to balance out the lobster, along with the perfect acidity to cleanse your palate after each buttery bite.

2008 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Crozes Hermitage Domaine de RoureOn the nose, this was intense with aromas of roasted nut and caramel, yet floral with lots of minerals and ripe stone fruits. On the palate, it was streamlined and fresh with citrus-laced orange pith and spice. The easy-going finish hinted at bitterness.

Get the recipe!



Pairing Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne to the Extreme

When you come across a full throttle Viognier blend like the one below, it’s important that your food choice can stand up to its bold flavors. Viognier excels against mild spices, especially curry, making it a perfect pairing for Indian food. When I took one taste of the Herman Story Tomboy, I knew exactly what I wanted to pair it with.

South Indian Chicken Curry is the yin to the Tomboy’s yang, and as odd as that sounded when I reread it, it’s completely true. The residual sweetness in the wine, full body and tense acidity make for a perfect match to this dish’s bold flavors. I couldn’t help myself from adding 1/3 cup of the wine to this recipe right before adding the chicken.

2008 Herman Story Tomboy - The nose was forward and highly expressive with apricot, nectarine and honey dew, followed and defined by grapefruit and candied ginger. On the palate, it was upfront with a wave of plush, ripe stone fruit, orange zest, sweet florals, spices and a syrupy yet balanced consistency. A hint of sweetness coated the palate and was washed clean by balanced acidity. It’s not a wine for the faint of heart, as its extreme personality manages to push the envelope yet continues to color within the lines. The luxurious finish lasted an easy minute and slowly melted from the palate, showing apricot, herbs and citrus zests.

Get the recipe!

Roussanne with Smoked Fish

Roussanne shares many qualities with Viognier. It’s a medium-to-full bodied white wine with an often exotic and rich profile. It’s the perfect pairing for smoked fish dishes, where the smoky and salty flavors truly accentuate the wine. I found it to be great with both smoked salmon canapes as well as a smoked trout chowder.

2007 Domaine du Tunnel (Stéphane Robert) St. Péray Cuvée Roussanne - On the nose, I found sweet cream and almond with sweet floral notes and a spritz of lime. On the palate, it was medium-bodied with mouthwatering acidity, clean, focused peach fruit and a hint of savory salinity. The finish showed lingering sweetness that faded with notes of sour apple.

Get the recipe!

Viognier with Squash

Continuing my love for pairing Viognier with difficult foods, one of my favorite pairings is with roasted butternut squash. To take this to the next level, it’s even better to pair a rich and racy Viognier with a spicy butternut squash bisque.  

Curried Squash-and-Pear Bisque. In this case, it’s the pairing of a rich curried squash bisque against a powerful yet balanced Viognier from California. Having these two items on a table together would make a believer out of anyone; they simply scream for each other by both complementing and contrasting aromas and flavors. Don’t forget to experiment with sweeter (autumnal) squash recipes, as I think you’ll find them just as satisfying.

2010 Darioush Viognier Signature - The nose smelled like spring with flowers, mango, orange zest and saline minerals, which broadened with time in the glass and began to show sweet cream and almond notes. On the palate, it had a full, almost oily texture with sweet fruit that immediately turned to juicy sour apple, pear and hints of pineapple. The finish was long and lingering, like peach nectar with a hint of clove spice.

Get the recipe!

Want to Learn More?

Check out even more great pairing ideas in Sangiovese Food and Wine Pairings!

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  • Snooth User: Amanda Schuster
    Hand of Snooth
    870341 1,996

    My family usually pairs an American Viognier with butternut squash soup at Thanksgiving. Have to agree that's a pretty slammin' pairing.

    Mar 30, 2012 at 10:47 AM

  • Snooth User: ontheriver
    101178 52

    I've heard that white Châteauneuf-du-Pape pairs well with lamb and is served that way in Lyon.

    Mar 30, 2012 at 12:01 PM

  • Snooth User: txwineguy2
    552506 11

    We visited the Provencal region , around Avignon, and found the Rhones their very tasty and affordable. The 'Cotes du Rhone' in either white or red were superb!

    Mar 30, 2012 at 2:43 PM

  • Snooth User: txwineguy2
    552506 11

    We visited the Provencal region , around Avignon, and found the Rhones their very tasty and affordable. The 'Cotes du Rhone' in either white or red were superb!

    Mar 30, 2012 at 2:43 PM

  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    92549 198,230

    This was the most fun I've ever had while writing a wine pairing piece. Up until a few months ago I had very little experience with these grapes. I was amazed at how versatile they are and they will find space in my cellar, as well as onto my client's tables.

    Mar 31, 2012 at 12:36 PM

  • Snooth User: edlohmann
    1029696 12

    I learned something new that I can incorporate in my wine tastings at Chrysalis vino veritas

    Apr 01, 2012 at 11:04 PM

  • My experience tasting wines made from Viognier vines is low, because for our country its production is recent, however, the wines I tasted were excellent, unfortunately for reasons of fashion, has shelved its mass production, for other more popular, in the case of Roussanne have not had a chance to try, the Marsanne only once, which is was an experimental production that makes a wine cellar, with respect to their pairing, it is true, is broad spectrum of flavors and textures which can be drunk. To me it seems very practical, is a grape that can be placed between Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, without reaching the extrem of either.

    Apr 08, 2012 at 3:14 PM

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