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Rhône Whites

James Molesworth
From the Print Edition:
100 Years of Fuente—Celebrating a Family Dynasty, January/February 2012

Red wine and steak. Red wine and cigars. Red wine and just about anything grilled. It seems hard to beat red wine. Heck, some even say that “all wines would be red if they could.”

If that’s how you feel, may we suggest thinking of these northern Rhône choices as red wines in white-wine clothing? Ignore them and you’ll miss out on a selection of rich wines that display impressive ranges of flavor, great mouthfeel and long finishes. France’s Northern Rhône valley, better known as the home of some of the world’s greatest Syrah, is producing some of the best white wines in the world.

Though they’re in the minority in terms of production volume, the premier white Northern Rhônes deliver a creamy, lush texture familiar to Chardonnay drinkers, but with a completely different flavor profile.

Condrieu relies on the Viognier grape, which typically produces bold anise, apricot, green fig and peach notes. The well-known E. Guigal Condrieu 2009 (rated 91 in Wine Spectator, $59) is a great place to start. Options include producers Yves Cuilleron and Mathilde & Yves Gangloff, who emphasize a lush, toasted style, and domaines such as Georges Vernay or Jean-Michel Gerin, which aim for elegance and minerality.

In contrast, white wines from Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage and St.-Joseph rely on the Marsanne and Roussanne grapes, which respectively lend minerality, with peach, quinine and almond, and richness, with lemon and brioche. Yves Cuilleron is a star here as well, with his stunning St.-Joseph White St.-Pierre 2009 (93, $47), made from 100 percent Roussanne; it sports creamed pear and Cavaillon melon notes.

Need a value alternative to dip your toe into the water? Try the M. Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage White Petite Ruche 2010 (91, $27), which showcases the Marsanne grape. It starts lush, but winds up with a racy, stone-tinged finish and hints of dried pineapple and chamomile.

Among the greatest of all is the Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage White 2008 (95, $300), which combines Marsanne and Roussanne together, capturing the best of both. It’s lush yet precise, with green tea, honeysuckle and quinine notes backed by richer green plum, pear and Jonagold apple flavors.

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