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!

The Ultimate Christmas Gift Guide

It’s that time of year where Christmas is approaching and we start to think about those thoughtful gifts for our loved ones. Wine is often regarded as a ‘safe’ present and there is always something to suit all tastes and preference whether that be for your parents, friends or even colleagues. It’s easy to throw a bottle or two into your trolley when doing your festive food shop. As this year’s Christmas may be a little different, why not put some extra thought into your loved ones’ gifts and give them something that will make them smile this Christmas. A gift from The Sunday Times Wine Club isn’t just a gift, it’s an experience. Let us show you our top picks for all types of wine lovers with something to suit every taste and budget.

Something Special

Looking for that extra special gift for that very special someone? These four gifts will be perfect choices with something to please all tastebuds.

Champagne, Flutes & Truffles

£59

Delicious truffles and gold medal-winning Champagne… a match made in heaven if you ask us. This luxury gift will make the recipient feel well and truly spoiled. Not only does this set include tasty truffles and Paul Goerg’s gold medal-winning Champagne, you’ll also get two Dartington Crystal flutes to sip your Champagne from.

Laurent-Perrier Rosé Champagne, Flutes & Ice Bucket

£90

One of the most famous of all fine pink Champagnes. Champagne Laurent-Perrier’s rosé spends four years ageing in its cellar, developing great complexity. You’ll receive this presented in its special bottle and gift box, together with two Dartington Crystal flutes, and a Laurent-Perrier branded ice bucket, so you can serve these bubbles in style.

Six Bottle Luxury Mix

£100

If you struggle to decide on red, white or fizz for your recipient, this gift is the perfect option with a taste of all three. These six wines will enhance any occasion with their quality and complexity of flavour. This selection compromises Didier Chopin Champagne, Saracosa Governo Rosso, Domaine Dampt’s Petit Chablis, the reserve edition of our exclusive Mussel Pot Sauvignon Blanc and Château la Vallée Montagne Saint-Emilion and last but not least, Limited Release McLaren Vale Shiraz… all presented in a luxury gift box.

Picnic Basket Hamper

£115

Looking for that wow factor gift? This elegant hamper with luxurious blanket comes with two beautiful Dartington Crystal flutes and a bottle of Pol Roger Champagne, even more delicious well chilled. A generous gift which is perfect for couples. The upright hamper makes it a smart and convenient way to carry bottles to any occasion in the New Year to come.

Something Different

Perhaps you’re looking for something slightly different to gift this Christmas. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here are our top picks:

Wooden Wine Rack & Wine

£20

Choose from a rich and velvety Italian red or a tropical, zesty New Zealand white. Whichever you choose, it will come packed in a wooden box that soon turns into a handy six-bottle wine rack.

Prosecco & Flutes

£30

This one’s for the Prosecco lovers out there. Your recipient will receive stylish sparkling wine flutes, making family-run Terra Batista’s creamy and complex Prosecco even more elegant.

Barbadillo Sherry & Olives Pack

£35

Sherry and olives are the Spanish equivalent of cheese and crackers – the perfect pairing! Our Barbadillo Sherry & Olives Pack will see your recipient getting the taste of sunny Spain with the aromas and flavours of crisp and dry Manzanilla sherry paired with succulent, juicy olives.

Flowers & Champagne

£75

This fine festive bouquet of elegant amaryllis, red roses and carnations are offset perfectly with pinecones and white thistles. Plus there’s more than a touch of splendour in the bottle of superb Louis Roederer champagne to add some sparkle.

ETO Wine Preserver

£125

You can now save the rest for later with this ETO Wine Preserver. This is the best of the best when it comes to keeping your open bottle in a drinkable condition. Not only is it highly praised for its ability to preserve wine, it also serves as an elegant decanter. A new, beautiful way to drink responsibly!

Gifts Under £40

Discover a selection of perfect gifts for wine lovers all under £40. We’ve got some great ideas for stocking fillers too.

Stirrers

£5.95

Add some fun to a classic G&T or a cocktail with these flavoured edible stirrers from Holly’s Lollies. These make a perfect stocking filler for any cocktail lover with five flavours to choose from: Raspberry Gin, Mulled Wine, Rhubarb Gin & Custard, Gin & Lemon and Amaretto.

Discovery Mixed Duo

£20

Give the gift of wine discovery. In this duo you’ll find the fresh and fruity Il Basso Italian Merlot, a sure-fire crowd pleaser, and Viňa Tarapacá, our bestselling Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. A pleasing pair for someone who is just getting into wine.

Rioja & Glasses

£25

Delight any wine lover with this gift set, presented in a luxury gift box. From winemaker Javier Murúa comes his Barón de Barbón, our bestselling Rioja. Our accompanying glasses will enhance the oak-aged aromas and flavours, opening up its toasty and spicy notes.

Harrow and Hope Brut Rosé

£32

Give the gift of an elegant English sparkling wine this year. But this isn’t just any English sparkling wine, it was last year’s winner of Best English Vintage Sparkling Rosé. Harrow and Hope Brut Rosé use the classic Champagne grapes and traditional Champagne method. It’s got gorgeous berry and toasty richness. The lucky recipient will receive this fizz in a smart, wooden box.

Classic Mixed Trio

£35

We’ve picked wines from some of our most talented producers for this trio. Javier Murúa’s toasty and silky Barón de Barbón is our bestselling Rioja, the Zonin family makes our fresh and creamy Luminoso Leggero Prosecco, and our tropical and crisp Company Bay Sauvignon Blanc is crafted by one of Marlborough’s pioneering cellars.

Or why not try?…

Home Tasting Experience

£80

Say hello to the do-it-yourself Home Tasting Experience. Not only will you SAVE 20% on a six-bottle showcase of delicious quality wine, which includes six glasses, and a Cabalié branded corkscrew, you’ll gain access to an in-depth tasting tutorial for each wine from our Wine Educator, Grant Hedley. Together, you will learn:

  • How to taste like a professional
  • All about the various grape varieties, regions and producers
  • Tasting notes for each wine
  • Perfect food and wine pairings

It’s the perfect gift for those wanting to learn more about wine, it’s also a great gift for yourself too. Find out more about what’s included in a Laithwaite’s Home Tasting Experience by clicking here.

We hope that you’ve found some inspiration for gifts to give this Christmas. You can view our full range over on our webpage.

Prices correct as of 17th November 2020.

Travel vicariously with Will Lyons as he recalls a memorable trip with club members and readers of The Sunday Times along the Rhône River

Timing is everything on the water. No sooner had we sat down for our main course than we were told that we were approaching the confluence, the area in the heart of Lyon where the Rhône and Saone rivers meet. From the top of a river boat the flood lit, bohemian quarter provides a dramatic backdrop. On a Friday night with the town’s youth spilling out, lining the banks of the Quai Saint Antoine and bistros, full to the brim, their windows steamed up by the throng inside, it felt like sailing through an opera set. We had arrived about an hour ahead of schedule, hence our presence in the dining room and not on the upper deck. The great wine enthusiast Oz Clarke had just embarked our voyage at Vienne and was already, glass in hand, soaking up the view as we snaked our way through the nightscape of Lyon. There was nothing for it. The cheese would have to wait, timetables are there to be broken so our happy table upped sticks and joined the assembled throng as we glided under low bridges and floodlit embankments through Lyon on that balmy, early, autumnal evening.

The hills of the Rhône Valley, dotted with pine trees and olive groves, have always produced some of France’s most drinkable red wines. Here the luscious, sweet-fruited reds, often a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, can produce wines that in the north of the valley have a vivid colour, wonderful, rounded-texture with a distinctive smell of white pepper. In the south of the valley the wines are more generous, easy to like, drinkable and often reasonable in price. In autumn, the valley comes into its own as the temperature drops, throwing up spectacular sunsets, atmospheric, misty mornings and the odd sun drenched afternoon. The Sunday Times River Cruise, with club members, subscribers and Riviera passengers was a perfect way to explore its charms. We began our journey in Avignon, stepping off the TGV we were met with an ochre sky, the early evening air heavy with the smell of pine, lavender and wild herbs. “Provence!” We exclaimed as we left the confines of the north behind us.

Will Lyons with fellow passenger onboard the William Shakespeare as they sailed up the Rhône River

Over the course of seven nights we explored its charms, following in the footsteps of Romans as we stopped off in Arles, admiring its amphitheatre and terracotta coloured rooftops, before we reached the granite outcrop of the hill of Hermitage, sailing past the vineyards of Condrieu and Ampuis home to the prized vineyards of Côte-Rôtie. We finished in the cellars of Burgundy where two grape varieties dominate, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, although it is the region’s third variety Aligoté, which produces a light, crisp white wine that is seeing an upswing in quality.

As our ship, The William Shakespeare, heaved its way along the river through precarious locks, past the ruined castle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and dramatic gorges we made many friends, from Hollywood producers to amateur hot air balloonists as we all gathered for two wine tastings ‘on the water’ enjoying club wines from along the river and across the world. Wine brought us together. Sitting down with a glass of something special, sharing memories and stories amidst laughter and conviviality is what The Sunday Times Wine Club is all about.

Understandably we don’t yet know when we will be able to come together again but rest assured at the club we have been busy planning a series of events so we can come together virtually and enjoy some interesting wines to discuss and enjoy. At the end of this month I will be sipping three spectacular wines inspired by the season we find ourselves in. Join me on the evening of the 28th October as we travel vicariously along the wine route. Tasting a Syrah, inspired by those ancient examples in the northern Rhône, from Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand, to a delightful, supple Rioja from Spain. Finishing with a glorious white wine which punches well above its weight from the southern hills of the Languedoc. I do hope you can join me. So pull up a chair, pour yourself a glass and drink along as we travel vicariously together along the wine route.

Buy Will Lyons Autumn Trio here.

Will Lyons

Club Vice President

Wine and Chocolate tasting with Grant Hedley & William Curley

Wine and chocolate are two of the most wonderfully indulgent and delightful products that we can enjoy. Our in-house wine educator, Grant Hedley, was lucky enough to be joined by William Curley, the immensely talented chef and chocolatier. William Curley became the youngest Chef Pâtissier in the Savoy’s history. He works with only the finest ingredients to create handmade morsels from heaven.

Together, they worked hard on some fantastic wine matches for his fabulous chocolates. Three of our wines and six of his chocolates were to be enjoyed for a tasting evening, and you at home could purchase them yourself and join in virtually over Zoom as they discuss the pairings.

For those who could not join us on the evening, you can catch up and find out more on the delectable matches in the recording from the session below. The featured wines are available to purchase if you wish to sip alongside the video.

F.W. Nalbach Sonnenschein Riesling 2019

£14.49 a bottle or £12.99 when you mix 12 or more*

Marqués de Murrieta Capellanía Reserva 2015

£24.00 a bottle*

Pillastro Selezione d’Oro 2019

£13.99 a bottle or £11.99 when you mix 12 or more*

*Prices correct as of 21st October 2020.

A virtual evening of Wine and Chocolate tasting with William Curley

Hi everyone,

We’re inviting you to our very special virtual event on Thursday 15th October at 7pm, chocolate and wine tasting with myself and William Curley. These are two of the most gloriously indulgent and delicious products, I’m so excited for this virtual tasting I can hardly contain myself.

For those of you who don’t know William Curley, he is an immensely talented chef and chocolatier. He works with only the finest ingredients to create handmade morsels from heaven. He’s so talented he became the youngest Chef Pâtissier in the Savoy’s history – that’s quite impressive! I don’t think I am stretching matters when I say, you haven’t tried chocolate until you have tried William’s chocolate, it’s like a fine dinning or Michelin Star experience for chocolate lovers.

I spent an evening with William recently, hard at work, matching some of my favourite wines to his fabulous chocolates. We managed to narrow down the selection to just three wines and six of his chocolates, I can’t wait to share and talk through the fruits of our labours with you alongside William on the evening.

But don’t worry, it won’t just be us tasting theses delights. We’ve put together the trio of wine for you to order for yourself and a selection of William’s chocolates, so you have the choice to taste along with us from the comfort of your own home. You can purchase the trio of wine by clicking here and the selection of William Curley’s chocolates here.

We will be hosting this event via Zoom Meetings. For more information, to book your free place and to receive joining details, please click here.

I hope to see you on the evening.

Best wishes,

Grant, Wine Expert

Dry Delights in Sweet Wine Country

It’s been nearly 30 years since our club President, Hugh Johnson ventured over the then collapsed Iron Wall in a bid to rediscover one of Europe’s forgotten wine regions. Hungary’s Tokaj vineyards, which sit around 150 miles north east of Budapest boast a historical legacy few other regions can equal. The sweet, honeyed, tangy wines produced from these vineyards, which are always cloaked in a veil of their signature flickering acidity, were one of the great wines of the Hapsburg Empire. Proclaimed by King Louis XIV of France as the wine of kings – the king of wines, they conquered Europe with a swagger few wines could match. It is not surprising they were one of the first regions to classify their vineyards. As Hugh Johnson observes in ‘From Noah to Now The Story of Wine’ (republished 2020 by Academie du Vin library) they found favour with both Peter the Great of Russia and Frederick 1 of Prussia, while the Tsars of Russia delighted in their amber colour and explosion of sweetness.

“What did not go to Vienna, Moscow, St Petersburg, Warsaw, Berlin or Prague was snapped up by the grandees of Britain, the Netherlands and France,” writes Hugh. “The world had no wine to compare with it for sweetness.”

But history isn’t always an upward trajectory and if the Russian Revolution stripped its winemakers of their most important export market, Communism conspired to flip these ancient fine wine cellars into mass production. These days European royalty are as likely to serve Champagne (or in the case of our Monarch English sparkling wine, perhaps from Windsor) as they are to drink sweet wine. Even in today’s world where we crave sugar just as much as our 18th century cousins, let’s be honest with ourselves, we only really ever pull out a bottle of something sweet a handful of times a year: Christmas, anniversaries, maybe the odd dinner with friends. But never on a consistent basis.

Like many sweet wine producing regions, from the Douro Valley in Portugal to the mist filled vineyards of Bordeaux’s Sauternes, the 21st century has brought change in the form of dry, table wines. I was lucky enough to visit the vineyards of the Royal Tokaji Company in the company of Hugh several years ago, and as much as I was impressed with the range and style of sweet wines we tasted it was the dry wines which also caught my eye. Made from the region’s signature grape variety, Furmint, as I wrote in my September Wine of the Month for the Club these wines have found favour with the wine cognoscenti and are gaining increased recognition. At its best Dry Furmint is a wonderful food friendly, dry wine with high acidity and an attractive savoury character. One could liken it to a Riesling or a Pinot Gris and the range of aromas include fresh green apple, lemon, ginger and sometimes a herbaceous, fennel character. These are wines to chill down and pair with food, grilled fish perhaps, a meaty stir fry with noodles, roast chicken, pork is a natural fit but it has enough weight and texture to stand up to spice.

In January Hugh and I attended a tasting in London of several different vintages of Royal Tokaji. Sweet and dry. The best dry examples had a touch of spice about them with notes of chamomile, and a refreshing, biting acidity. As I walked home along the Thames the thought occurred to me that perhaps the region is due another renaissance, this time for its dry wines. Time will tell.

Will Lyons

Club Vice President

An update from Jean-Marc Sauboua at Château La Clarière

Jean-Marc Sauboua, our very own in-house winemaker, sent us this message with an update from the vineyards of our Château La Clarière in Bordeaux. They’ve been very busy in recent weeks redoing the vineyard, pulling some of the old vines and preparing the soil to plant new ones. They are coping well and working hard. Take a look to see how they are getting on.

Wine Live with Will Lyons and Jean-Marc Sauboua

This week, Will Lyons was virtually joined by Haut-Brion trained winemaker Jean-Marc Sauboua, live from the vineyards in Bordeaux. Having a chat and general catch up on how things have been going with the growing season so far, plus tasting some delicious wines too.

In case you couldn’t join us on Tuesday night, here’s what they spoke about.

We do hope that you can join us in Wine Live with Will Lyons next Tuesday evening on Facebook.

Keep well and stay safe.

From the vineyards of Castelli Martinozzi

Many of our winemakers across the globe are still experiencing lockdown much like us here in the UK. We’ve been staying in touch with our global winemakers and receiving updates on how they are coping. The winery behind our delicious Brunello di Montalcino from Castelli Martinozzi in Tuscany, have sent us this warming video message from the heart of the vineyard.

Although a cloudy day, we’re happy to hear the good spirits from the winery and just like Federico, we will look forward to enjoying a glass of Castelli Martinozzi Brunello di Montalcino 2020.

Ciao from Tuscany.

Heartfelt thanks from Prosecco maker and old friend Alessandro Gallici

We’ve just received this moving video message from northern Italy.

While we’re very happy to see Alessandro healthy in his Prosecco vineyards it’s another reminder that what we in the UK might see as a little drink to make staying in more bearable is helping keep wineries, families going.

We’ve been working with Alessandro for 20 years and he’s become a good friend in that time. He’s been a regular smiling face at our UK tasting events for many years too. Many customers will have met him in person and many, many more have enjoyed his Prosecco.

We’ll let him tell you for himself what it means to have your support during this difficult time …