The Rhone's not always red
Think Rhône, think red. So much of the river of wine that pours from the Rhône Valley is red, rich and delicious that it can come as a surprise to the wine lover to learn that the region also produces whites.
But it does indeed, and this vinous minority is well worth seeking out, especially when you're in the mood for a break from the more common white varieties like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
All the white grapes permitted in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape blend (Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Roussanne and Picardan) are allowed in white Côtes du Rhônes, plus Marsanne, Viognier and a few relative rarities like Picpoul and Mauzac. Many of these varieties are highly aromatic, and judicious blending can build real complexity in the wines, a complexity that can be further enhanced by slight oxidation that adds richness with a little time in the bottle.
To be frank, a lot of white Rhône wine is forgettable at best, particularly when it's made from "overcropped" vineyards farmed for quantity, not quality. But the good examples can be memorable, like today's example from the sizable but respectable producer E. Guigal, whose white St.-Joseph from the Northern Rhône was featured in the Jan. 5 Wine Advisor.
Guigal's Côtes du Rhône Blanc is a blend of Rousanne (33 percent), Clairette (25 percent), Viognier (25 percent), Bourboulenc (15 percent) and Grenache Blanc (2 percent). At $10, it's a no-brainer of a buy.
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E. Guigal 2002 Côtes du Rhône ($9.99)
This wine is a pale straw color in the glass, but brighter glints of gold show against the light. Intriguing aromas, characteristic of white Rhône wines, blend white fruit - peaches and citrus, dates and figs and a hint of banana - with whiffs of almonds, wool and and an elusive touch of spice. The seductive aromas carry over to the palate, ripe fruit and minerality with good body and acidity; bone-dry, citric and snappy. It's best served cool, not cold, so its complexity is fully revealed. U.S. importer: Ex Cellars Wine Agencies Inc., Solvang, Calif. (Jan. 25, 2005)
FOOD MATCH: An absolute delight with poulet saute with wild mushrooms in a rich cream sauce, another recipe from Chef Joseph Carey's new cookbook, Creole Nouvelle, Contemporary Creole Cookery, which I'll feature in tomorrow's Wine Advisor FoodLetter.
VALUE: Retail prices in the U.S. range from $9 to $12, a niche in which it dominates the white-wine competition.
WHEN TO DRINK: Best drunk up fresh, over the next year or two at most; Southern Rhône whites in this style can gain richness and complexity with short-term, careful aging, but it's generally a close race between evolution and Sherrylike oxidation.
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Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2005