While the Rhône Valley is best known for its amazing red wines, its white wines should not be overlooked. If you’ve been intrigued by American wines labeled Viognier or described as “Rhône-style”, check out the origins of these fascinating, even exotic wines.
Of particular note are the Côtes-du-Rhône Crus of the Northern Rhône. A Cru is a specifically delineated geographic area around a village whose wines are noted for high quality and distinctiveness.
Hermitage Blanc arguably is the most prestigious. The 2017 Barruol Lynch “La Pierrelle” ($99) blends mostly marsanne with roussanne for a complex of focused citrus, tropical and stone fruits with hazelnuts, an intriguing minerality and a honeyed, creamy palate.
And the tiny appellation of Condrieu is the ancestral home of viognier, which has grown in popularity around the world in recent years. Nowhere else will you find such an expression of the grape with freshness and tautness in balance with the naturally luxurious texture. And the 100% viognier 2018 E. Guigal ($65) is a fine example, dramatically aromatic and flavored with citrus and stone fruit while notes of ginger, honey and minerality add complexity to the rich texture.
Not as well-known as Hermitage or Condrieu, wines from nearby Saint-Péray, a white wine only appellation, can be nearly as impressive, particularly in the hands of a top producer such as Domaine A. Clape (2019, $78). Also mostly marsanne with roussanne, this is graceful and elegant, with pure citrus and stone fruit accented with spice and licorice.
In the Southern Rhône, the quality of the Lirac Côtes du Rhône Cru (an appellation in proximity to Châteauneuf-du-Pape) is reflected in the 2019 Domaine de la Mordorée “La Reine des Bois” ($36). Made up of equal parts grenache blanc, viognier, and roussane, it is attractively floral and fruity, suggesting citrus and stone fruit with stony notes and a creamy texture.
Also in the Southern Rhône, the village of Beaumes-de-Venise sources this 2016 Domaine de Durban “Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise” ($27), which is a fortified wine like Port, designated “vin doux naturel” (naturally sweet wine). At 15% alcohol, it defines freshness and finesse with concentration.
While a simple Côtes-du-Rhône label indicates a good value, entry level wine, Côtes-du-Rhône Villages means the wine comes from one of 21 specifically designated villages known for higher quality. And the 2018 Domaine Pélaquié “Laudun” ($17) is a named Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Cru made with viognier, grenache blanc, clairette, roussane, marsanne and bourboulenc. It is a fine value showing ripe fruit, medium body and a rounded palate.