Northern Rhone White Wines: Reflecting on the Unforgettable

Posted on: May 23rd, 2013 by
northern rhone white wine

Looking down the barrel of a wine.

How had I neglected Northern Rhone white wines? I guess I was too busy penning love letters to the Loire Valley further up north in France. But the region from Vienne south to Valence (map) is home to some of my favorite fancy white wines ever. My reflection and rediscovery started while on a trip sponsored by Wines of France. It was a journey full of epic wine geek moments, beginning in Beaujolais with apron-modeling and continuing on with raisins and pigs in bow ties.

Our first stop in the Northern Rhone, and where I took this photo of me, was at Yann Chave. The barrel was set up this way so you could turn on a light and see what was going on inside, fermentation-wise. Watch the magic! Or, in this case, take a selfie. We started our visit by tasting a wine from the Crozes-Hermitage region (the 2012 Yann Chave Crozes-Hermitage Blanc), a white made from a blend of 70% Marsanne and 30% Roussane grapes. For a wine with no oak it had plenty of richness, balanced by freshness and a lively character. The perfect breakfast white wine. (Full disclosure: I had solids for breakfast back at the hotel.)

We then cruised on down the town of Tain L’Hermitage, where I was transfixed by this town square sculpture:

Tain L'Hermitage

I should also have looked up, as I would have been mesmerized by the iconic vineyards of Hermitage, a very famous spot for grapes and one of those places I could now cross off my vineyard nerd list.┬áLet’s let some pictures do the talking, which I snapped after a fantastic lunch at the Chapoutier winery. Slideshow time:

Created with flickr slideshow.
I was a little woozy and dazed from the sheer enormity of Hermitage, the hot sun beating down on my balding dome, and the flush of a spectacular lunchtime wine: the 2010 Ferraton St. Joseph Blanc “Les Olivieres”. It’s a blend of half Marsanne, half Roussanne, and does see some time in oak barrel. Wowzers. Golden and rich. And as it warmed up a bit it became a little leaner, creamy and silky, wrapped up with a delicate final bow to the taste buds. Crazy good; it’s a wine that insists you push aside the spit bucket and finish. And probably have a splash more. (Full disclosure: I did both.)

Though the Northern Rhone region is justifiably famous for its Syrah, the white wines are often stunning as well. And geez, I didn’t even cover Condrieu, where the best Viognier in the world is made! Luckily, before our journey was over we got to enjoy a Condrieu from Chapoutier. (I picked up the nickname “wine-whisperer” on this trip because I seemed to know for what wines to ask for that were a must-try. Condrieu was high on that list.)

So if you’re lacking in experience with Northern Rhone white wines made from Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier, I hope this missive will inspire you to bridge that gap.


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2 Responses

  1. Lesley says:

    Indeed, it was thanks to your wine whispering that I enjoyed my first taste of Condrieu! Great post.

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