Written by Dan Berger
When we think of the white wines of the south of France, one basic type emerges in our mind: White Côtes du Rhône. These wines tend to be more interesting, especially in the last decade as better techniques have been developed to capture fruit, such as cooler fermentations, protecting grapes from oxidation after harvest, and better-quality bottling equipment, corks, and bottles.
Another reason is that whites from the south of the Rhône can be anything the winemaker fancies, so the styles can differ. So can the grape varieties used.
As such, two of these wines rise to the top when we evaluate the category. Both are nationally available, and both always deliver a rich layer of fruit, almost in the style of Chardonnay.
Guigal is a name always associated with this style of wine, and it is obvious to most Americans since it is a popular go-to choice across the country. For the 2017 E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone Blanc, the use of 60% Viognier gives the wine delicate floral components, and 25% of the blend is roughly equal parts of Marsanne and Rousanne, to give the wine the richness that allows it to almost mimic some medium-weight Chardonnays for palate weight. This wine offers both a dry entry, and layered, creamy finish with enough oomph to take on slightly richer foods.
However, the wine’s attractive structure allows it to be served with light cheeses as an aperitif and it can also accompany any food with a cream sauce.
By contrast, the other side of the same designation is the all-Grenache Blanc 2017 Ferraton Pere & Fils Cotes du Rhone Samorens Blanc, which leans a bit more on the minerally side of the ledger in terms of aroma, and achieves slightly less of the mid-palate weight of the Guigal with more food-friendly structure.
Samorens Blanc isn’t anywhere near as widely recognized as is the Guigal, but might appeal more to traditional white Rhône lovers because it offers slightly more food compatibility.
For even more Mediterranean minerality, the always-fascinating 2018 Les Costieres de Pomerols Picpoul de Pinet H.B. is an absolute delight. From fruit grown in the Languedoc, it has a slightly more floral nose, with a faint trace of lemon verbena, and is fresher and more aromatically inviting than the other more “serious” Rhône whites.
It’s true that Picpoul is not yet a household name (it may never become one!), but the wine is nonetheless a charmer for its almost-Muscadet-like freshness and vitality. And the price is an indication only of how obscure the wine is!
All three of these wines are priced at approximately the same level. However, the Picpoul is far less well known, and often it is slightly more discounted. That makes it a fascinating value.
All three wines can be enjoyed cool or cold.