Since we’ve got to spread the love a bit, this list is a bit different than my usual top producers lists. I’m hitting all my favorites among the old guard but in a nod to the future, I’ve also dug deep to find the ground breakers and the movers and shakers that are making waves with Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and who knows what else the world over.
Join me in raising a glass to these fine producers and the White Rhônes they produce!
Photo courtesy T_Thomas_W via Flickr/CC
You’ve probably all heard me rail against the rising price of Rhône wine and Southern Rhônes in particular. While the market for white wines from the Rhône is far from as frothy as that for reds, there are far too many over-priced wines floating around there.
Vieux Télégraphe has held the line on pricing for their wines, though I do see that the 2010s seem have taken a rather steep bump up. Hopefully this is not a portent of things to come. Still, VT does produce one of my favorite White Rhônes, a blend of 40% Clairette, 30% Grenache Blanc and 15% each Roussanne and Marsanne that occasionally bears witness to a bit of oak ageing. VT also produces the more affordable Vieux Mas des Papes from a blend more dependent on Roussanne. This shows similar flavors to the main bottling: orange blossom, bees wax and a little heather, though the Vieux Télégraphe Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc has a much more vivid, tense and mineral driven base.
I know a few folks out there must be scratching their heads over my choice of Vieux Télégraphe thinking, “Why not Beaucastel?”
Price aside (Beaucastel Blanc is getting really pricey!) I couldn’t include Beaucastel and Tablas Creek, now could I?
Tablas Creek is the American venture of the Perrin family (of Beaucastel fame), featuring premium Rhône varietal wines grown in Paso Robles, California. While not the first to produce these wines, Tablas Creek is doing more to promote them and disseminate information about the way vines grow in California than just about anybody else out there. The Tablas Creek website is a wealth of information about the grapes and their wines, which tend to be particularly rich and aromatic.
If there is any white Rhône wine I am particularly familiar with, it is Chave’s Hermitage Blanc. Until fairly recently this was inexpensive, though recently it has soared in price placing it well outside my comfort zone.
Fortunately, Chave has introduced an affordable St. Joseph Blanc “Celeste” as well as a Crozes Hermitage Blanc “Sybele” under their négociant label J. L. Chave Selection that together serve as a great introduction to the style. I prefer the Sybele for its waxy softness and the slight bitter/herbal edge of its fruit. The Chave Hermitage Blanc was famous for its extended and profound dumb period, rendering the wine virtually undrinkable for a decade before it emerged in mature splendor. I have a feeling that early reports of Sybele’s precocious demise are simply harbingers of better things to come. Be patient with this Roussane, Marsanne blend.
Moving on to the most famous White Rhône there is, Viognier, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a better producer than Cuilleron. While his reds sometimes seem a bit too managed for me, the array of Viognier he has produced within the Condrieu appellation are always worth taking a look at. Try La Petite Côte for youthful fruit and some obvious barrel ageing, Les Chaillets for a deeper expression of the same, Vertige for more mass and power and Ayguets for a uniquely sweet expression of Viognier.
Of course that is just the tip of the iceberg. Cuilleron produces other Viognier wines, Marsanne, Roussanne and blends from throughout the Rhône in a similar style. Definitely a touchstone for white wines in the Rhône.
Photo courtesy growingboywine.com
If you want the antithesis of Yves Cuilleron, look no further than Château Grillet, long famous as France’s smallest appellation and one of only two devoted to a single estate. Château Grillet is surrounded by the Condrieu appellation, recognized for the high quality and distinctive terroir of Ch. Grillet. Another Rhône white that begs for some bottle age, Ch. Grillet is unusual in that it is produced exclusively from Viognier, a variety better known for early enjoyment than long term cellaring potential. Another rather unusual feature of Château Grillet is that they produce a single wine. The estate’s Viognier, bottled after two years in barrel, is prized by collectors and often needs at least a decade in the cellar to reveal all its secrets.