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When it comes to wine, I love to share my favourites, but I’m not particularly bossy. Drink what you love, I say. Red, white, bubbles, whatever.
Except when it comes to white wines from France’s Rhone Valley.
Buy them. Drink them and find more. Drink them often, and tell your friends about them, too.
The thing is, Rhone whites — wines made from grapes such as Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier — are complex and interesting, beautiful and food-friendly.
And they come with a hearty dose of history, too.
Wines, both red and white, have been made in the Rhone Valley for more than 2,000 years, since Roman times.
By the 1300s, the Catholic popes had relocated from Rome to France. Great wine lovers, they had vineyards planted in the Rhone, and they helped protect and strengthen the wine culture throughout the valley.
And what a valley it is. Located in Southern France, the Rhone Valley is a large — 183,000-acre — region that breaks down into two sub-regions, the Northern Rhone and the Southern Rhone. Those two sub-regions are then split into various smaller appellations, referred to in French as “appellation d’origine controlee” and often simply abbreviated as AOC.
Although white wines can be made in most of the AOCs, very little is. More than 80 per cent of Rhone wines are red; less than five per cent are white, according to Larousse Wine: The World’s Greatest Vines, Estates and Regions.
That is why the Condrieu AOC is worth singling out. Viognier, a white wine grape, is the only grape that can legally be grown in Condrieu. No reds. Just white.
Marsanne is another popular white wine grape in the Rhone Valley. Typically found in the Northern Rhone, it is mostly blended with other grapes, particularly Roussanne. On its own, however, it makes rich golden-coloured wines that often have spice and pear flavours.
As for Roussanne, it’s rather temperamental. It ripens late, hates the wind, and is prone to mildew. But at its best, roussanne is herbal, spicy and loaded with fruity notes: apple, pear, peach. In blends, it gives white wine aging capability, aromatics and acidity.
There are other white wine grapes in the Rhone Valley, too, including Bourboulenc, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul, Rolle (another name for Vermentino), and Ugni Blanc. They may not be the stars of the show, but each has a role to play.
Want to know more? Here's a short guide to the Rhone Valley's most common white grapes.
And looking for foods to pair with your Rhone whites? Here are a few of our favourite things.
This story first appeared in City Palate magazine.