The Côtes du Rhône’s delicious white lie

When we say Côtes du Rhône you’re probably already thinking of rich, plummy red wines. And you can certainly be forgiven for making that assumption, (reds make up 89% of the region’s wine production after all). But that doesn’t mean you should be discounting white wine made there.

Despite only accounting for 4% of the wine produced, what Côtes du Rhône whites lack in quantity, they make up for in character, charm and variety.

So, white wine lovers, forget Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, even Chardonnay … and embrace the unique delights of the Côtes du Rhône.

So what’s so appealing about the Rhône’s whites?

As is the case with the region’s reds, the whites here offer a delicious and appealing range of styles. No surprise perhaps, when you consider the length of the whole valley (over 200km), the change of topography, soil and also the climate.

From the rounded peachy and apricot fruited, sometimes floral character of southern wines which gain their juicy ripeness from the area’s Mediterranean climate, to the more refined creamy, nutty and honeysuckle-scented wines of the north; the variety of the landscape and climate means there’s plenty to discover.

There is lots of encouragement from the press too: Decanter described white Rhônes as “weighty, food-friendly whites [that] are inexpensive”, while the Guardian’s Fiona Beckett praised them for offering “a broad range of full-bodied, complex whites that won’t burn a hole in your wallet.” Journalist Rose Murray-Brown MW in the Scotsman urges us,grab what you can before Rhône whites become even more fashionable and prices start to rise.”

How does the region differ?

Grenache Blanc is one of the native grapes used in top Rhône whites

In Southeastern France, the valley starts between the granite-blessed Massif Central and the Alps in the north. Steep and narrow, as it heads towards Montélimar, Orange and the Mediterranean it gradually opens out to offer hills, then gentle undulations and plains. Soils change as well – from the granite and schist of the north to the clay-lime-marl of the south’s gentle slopes.

On this path south, the climate also changes. You start with typical inland continental – hot summers and cold winters, then gradually move into the appealing, temperate warmth of the Mediterranean – warm summers and moderate winters, accompanied by the strong Mistral wind.

Three Côte du Rhône whites to try:

Taking all that into account, it’s no surprise that the grape varieties change through the landscape as well, just like they do for its red wines. Northern vineyards champion floral and exotically flavoured Viognier, often a varietal wine (ie pure Viognier) or a blend of Roussanne and Marsanne, the two found in prized white Hermitage, Saint-Joseph and Château-Grillet.

Due to the labour intensity and expense of working these steep northern vineyards, most of the white wine output is cru or more expensive appellation wines. The most accessible Côtes du Rhône whites largely come from the south. There, winemakers promote white wines made from a delicious array of native varieties – Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, Clairette and Bourboulenc, with small quantities of Terret Blanc and Picardin.

And what can you expect from these more southerly whites?

Broadly speaking, Côtes du Rhône Blancs are a gorgeous blend of the white grapes listed above. They have a satisfying weight and aromatic character (particularly if they include generous portions of Viognier or Clairette), with incisive, citrus-fresh minerality. These are perfect food wines, as well as being, for the most part, very appealing on their own. Largely they’ll remain fresh and unoaked, with only lees-ageing (lees are the sediment particles left after fermentation) bringing out the creamy roundness. Some will show a little oak, to lend extra toasty weight and complexity.

Côtes du Rhône whites – explore them now!

Now, more than ever, it’s a great time to discover the white wines of the Rhône – more advanced techniques have helped to produce brighter, more minerally and aromatic whites. Plus, of course, there’s an enthusiastic, new generation of winemakers taking charge, with greater knowledge and experience from all over the world. Armed with this, they bring with them new ideas and an energy to try new things.

So next time you want a wine to go with a chicken dish – chicken pie, spicy marinaded chicken with pecan rice, a creamy noodle dish or seafood, delve into the white wines of the Côtes du Rhône. You’ll find they make a perfect partner and are also appetisingly vibrant and fresh to enjoy all on their own. Cheers!

Tom Laithwaite checks in at RedHeads

Find out what’s been happening this year at RedHeads, when Tom Laithwaite catches up with head winemaker Alex Trescowthick. Pour yourself a large glass of something from RedHeads and enjoy a tour of the vineyard, the cellar and the studio bar, plus hear about what’s been happening in Oz.

Not yet a RedHead? To find out how to partner up with this great studio winery, secure yourself a case of RedHead’s fabulous 1888 Shiraz at a special ‘partners’ only’ price, and become a ‘RedHead’ yourself, visit www.sundaytimeswineclub.co.uk/redheads.

How our winemakers are coping with Australian bushfires – and how you can help

Amidst the worst Australian bushfire crisis seen in decades, many of our fantastic customers have been in touch to ask how they can help.

Turn on the news or open up a paper and it’s clear to see the country is in trouble. At least 28 people have lost their lives, thousands more have lost their homes and huge swathes of land have been destroyed.

It’s easy to feel helpless, especially from the other side of the world, so we’ve sent on your messages to our buyer Dan Parrott in Melbourne.

“It’s been very tense,” he told us. “If you’re not in the fire yourself, you know someone who is. It has touched everybody.

“Right now it’s raining which is great. Even before the fires we had drought, so it’s brought a sense of relief which we haven’t had for a long time.

“But we’re only halfway through the summer. We’re definitely not out of danger yet … no one would dare to say that.”

How has the wine industry been affected by the bushfires?

The extent of the damage caused by the Australian bushfire crisis to the wine industry as a whole is not yet known.

Wineries might have lost stock they’d been storing from previous vintages, and if that’s the case their insurance may well cover it. Others may have lost vineyards, although it’s far too early to know how many have been affected. And we won’t know if surviving vines have been too badly damaged by smoke to create wine for another month or so.

But one thing vineyards, wineries and many other businesses across the country are struggling with is a lack of tourism.

“People from all over the world come to Australia at Christmas time,” Dan said.

Laithwaite's Wine buyer Dan Parrott is based in Melbourne
Dan Parrott has been reaching out to our Australian winemakers to offer help to anyone affected by the bushfires

“They visit the vineyards, they stay in hotels, they eat at the restaurants. But we’ve lost a lot of tourist trade for months now.

“So the best thing people in the UK can do to help those struggling regions is to buy products from those places which have been affected.

“I’ve reached out to our winemakers to see if they’re okay. As we speak, all of their partners, families and loved ones are all safe. We have very good relationships with them so it’s more personally sympathetic than business conversations at the minute. All we can do is tell them we’re thinking of them and let them know we’re here if they need us.”

How can you help the Bushfire Appeal?

In terms of practical support our customers can offer right now, Dan says the best way to help is to donate money to the Red Cross Bushfire Appeal. Clothes donations and food drives are great, but have been well covered locally.

But donating to the Red Cross will ensure victims of the Australian bushfire crisis who have lost their homes are housed, clothed and fed.

“In Australia we have a saying … ‘everything can be replaced but people’.

“Every region has a fire plan, and that’s to leave. So people in affected areas won’t have packed anything up, they just get out of there. And that’s who the Bushfire Appeal helps.”

To donate go to https://www.redcross.org.au/campaigns/disaster-relief-and-recovery-donate.