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What's new in iJamming!...
Thu, Dec 4, 2003
iJamming! Wino/Muso:
JOHN ACQUAVIVA
"New world wines are just too techno for me."
Featured wine region 3:
SOUTHERN RHÔNE WHITES
Featured wine region 4:
SOUTHERN RHÔNE ROSÉS
This week's FEATURED WINE
Previously...
FEATURED Wines 3
FEATURED Wines 2
FEATURED Wines 1
Featured wine region 2:
CÔTES DU RHÔNE VILLAGES
The Geography
The Villages
Featured vine:
VIOGNIER:
Finally, a worthy rival to Chardonnay.

Now with updated reviews
Featured wine region 1:
CÔTES DU RHÔNE
Featured wine web site:
HONIG
WINE AND MUSIC:
What wine fans and music devotees have in common.
Featured wino: TIMO MAAS
Featured party wine:
CLINE's Cotes d'Oakley
And how Cline does it
Featured wine web site: VIGNOBLES BRUNIER
The full iJamming! Contents
the iJammming! featured wine region:
Southern Rhône Whites
PART 2 (Click here for part one)
4) Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône-Villages estates

Dozens of well-known estates produce white Côtes du Rhônes alongside their reds, but most are produced in far smaller quantities - 1500 cases is considered a high yield - so rather than searching out one elusive producer, it's a matter of trying different ones as you come across them. A good example would be the new vintage 2000 from Domaine De l'Enclos, credited to one of the southern Rhône's stars, Andre Brunel (of Châteauneuf du Pape's Les Cailloux domaine), which is dominated by Roussanne and Grenache Blanc and is a full-bodied wine with considerable finesse for its nine dollars price tag. Other well-priced whites - all around or just above the ten dollar mark - that I've either tried or know the quality of the firm's other wines first hand include Domaine de la Solitude, Domaine Chaume-Arnaud, Domaine de la Réméjeanne, Château St.-Estève d'Uchaux, Domaine Font de Michelle, Château de St.-Cosme, Château du Trignon, Domaine Lafond and Domaine de la Mordorée. And if you're a fan of viognier - and why wouldn't you be?- don't ever pass up the opportunity to try 100% viogniers under the Côtes du Rhônes label from Domaine Saint-Anne, Alain Jaume or Domaine Les Goubert.

Just as with the red wines of the region, it's well worth stepping up a notch in price from Côtes du Rhône to Côtes du Rhône-Villages. One producer who offers both in substantial enough quantities that you can taste and compare is Domaine Pélaquié, whose regular white Côtes du Rhône is under $10, and whose Côtes du Rhône Villages Laudun is usually just a dollar more for a far superior wine. In fact, it's fair to say that the Laudun is one of the most celebrated white wines of the region; Pélaquié takes his craft seriously and blends no less than five grapes - a significant amount of Viognier and Roussanne adding a gorgeously heady texture to a base of Clairette Blanc, Bourboulenc and Grenache Blanc. Pélaquié believes in harvesting as late as the end of October, which explains why his whites have such high alcohol content. We went through a couple of cases of the 1998; it was my favorite white wines from anywhere for the price, a luxuriant golden yellow giving off all kinds of almond, honey, citrus and white fruit aromas, turning full-bodied and luscious in the mouth, with sharp acidity, a pleasing flintiness, and a splendid all-round balance, before ending with a long, spicy finish.

When we opened the first of the '99s alongside the last of the '98s the difference was apparent, from a lighter color all the way down to a shorter finish, and we purhased it sparingly. In January 2002, we compared the newly released regular Côtes du Rhône 2001 alongside the Côtes du Rhône-Villages Laudun. Both were shockingly high in alcohol, the former a daunting 14%, the latter a staggering (as anyone would be after a couple of glasses) 14.5%. This is too high for comfort, which might explain why I was able to pick up the wine at such a hefty discount that the Laudun cost me a mere $7. The basic Côtes du Rhône has plenty honey aromas, but it lacked finesse and felt heavy; the Laudun, however, was not just bigger, but noticeably better, from its deeper golden color through its considerable acidity, rich attack, and lengthy finish. Luc Pélaquié, while a man of considerable expertise, would do well to get the alcohol content down in future years; all the same, the Laudun remains an excellent, if no longer benchmark, southern Rhône white.
Domaine Pélaquié's whites: intense wines, among the best of the southern Rhone, but with frighteningly high alcohol. Left: the Laudun 2000 (14.5%). Right: the Côtes du Rhône (14%).

Other Côtes du Rhône-Villages wines can also throw up some pleasant surprises, though usually at a higher price than Pélaquié's Laudun. Up in Vinsobres, the over achieving Domaine Chaume-Arnaud structured a marvelous 1999 Côtes du Rhône Villages entirely from Marsanne and Viognier for around $15. Truly a cut above the norm, this succulent, rich, creamy and quite intense wine would stand its own among many noble whites from around the globe. Less intense an example comes from Domaine de L'Oratoire Saint Martin in Cairanne, who produce a finely structured wine primarily from Marsanne and Roussanne, with some Viognier and even Muscat thrown in for good measure and complexity. I've yet to see a white wine from my favorite of the Côtes du Rhône-Villages, Rasteau, which makes sense given the tannic, heady nature of its reds. But I have tried Domaine Les Goubert's Côtes du Rhône-Villages Sablet, which combines Roussane and Viognier with Clairette and Bourboulenc; I've also had a Sablet from Domaine Piaguier from both 1998 and 1999; all three of these Sablets were satisfyingly subtle and elegant. Given that I've yet to have a bad red from Sablet either, I'd recommend the village as close to a certainty.

Just as they do with the reds, Château Baucastel and Château Rayas offer the region's most expensive Côtes du Rhônes, from vineyards just outside the demarcation of their home Châteauneuf du Pape estates. Beaucastel's new wave blend (primarily Viognier and Marsanne) is the Coudoulet du Beaucastel; Rayas' old fashioned concoction is called Fonsalette. Given that each are upwards of $30 and rarely live up to their red brethren's reputations, I mention them mainly to be a completist.
5) Châteauneuf du Pape and Lirac

Though I've yet to write about the following crus' red wines, there are small quantities of white wine made from grapes grown within the separate appellations of Châteauneuf du Pape (7% of output), Vacqueryas (just 1%, I've yet to see any), and Lirac (5%). Lirac is a strange appellation, awarded AOC status back in 1947, long before Gigondas and Vacqueryas on the opposite (eastern) side of the Rhône acquired similar recognition; its red wines are under-rated and suitably under-priced as a result. The town's best producer of red and rosé wines, Domaine de la Mordorée, also produces the most acclaimed white, a Cuvée de la Reine des Bois, a similar blend to Pélaquié's Laudun. I have yet to see this wine, but would love to taste it - especially as my lone experience with Lirac's white wines was with a rather heavy 1999 from Château Le Devoy Martine, a combo of Marsanne, Roussanne and Bourboulenc that was disappointingly short on texture.

The white wines of Chateauneuf du Pape come with the appellation's crest on the bottle, and their price tag ($30 and up for the better examples) is hefty considering the region's reputation is primarily for its red wines.
That leaves only the white wines of Châteauneuf du Pape. A good white Châteauneuf du Pape is a sublime experience, though with the wines starting at $20 and working their way up from there, for me it's an all too rare one. My introduction to the whites was with a 1997 Château de la Nerthe - which I cellared for a year, allowing it to round out a little, something you wouldn't do with the whites from elsewhere in the southern Rhône. Golden in color, incredibly rich and complex and yet with great finesse too, it gave off all kinds of tastes, from earth through honey and almonds - all the more rewarding considering that only Roussanne from the "better" trio of white grapes was blended in with Grenache Blanc, Clairette and Bouboulenc. (Then again, in Châteauneuf du Pape, terroir is all, and the esteemed La Nerthe domaine has some of the appellation's most renowned plots.) The 1999 seems to be attracting similar acclaim, and though it will set you back around $30, I'm sure it would be worth it for a celebration. I did pick up a bottle of Château Mont-Redon's 1999 blanc, and while it was a good, full, elegant and rich wine, I couldn't see it justifying its $25 price tag. Likewise, the Domaine Chante Cigale 1999 was relatively innocuous, perhaps to be expected given that it's one of the cheaper white Châteauneuf du Papes (coming in just under $20). Robert Parker has since written that 2001 is possibly the best year for white Châteauneuf du Pape wines on record; I don't have enough experience to comment, though I intend to try a couple.

All in all though, it seems to make sense to stick with the Côtes du Rhônes for value, or buy higher end white Châteauneuf du Papes for guaranteed excellence; the top whites from the appellation can - so I'm told - hold their own with anything on the world stage. Then again, Château Beaucastel's Roussanne Vieille Vignes is $75, assuming you can find it, and even the regular Châteauneuf du Pape (80% Roussanne, 20% Grenache blanc) is an equally hefty $45. I've heard great things about the white Châteauneuf du Pape from Les Cailloux, Clos des Papes and Eric Texier, but I couldn't bring myself to commit to the cost. I'm more interested in tracking down the white Châteauneuf du Pape from Château St-Cosme, which is the only 100% Grenache Blanc I know of from any appellation. At $25, and knowing the quality of the firm's Gigondas and Côtes du Rhône reds, it should certainly be worth the risk.
6) The Bottom Line.

For around ten dollars, there are several good producers of white Côtes du Rhônes (Pélaquié, Mordorée, St-Cosme, L'Enclos, Lafond etc.) and some excellent négociants (Guigal, Perrin, Colombo, Gabriel Meffre). Between ten and fifteen dollars buys into the Côtes du Rhône-Villages wines (Pélaquié's Laudun is the best bargain, Chaume Arnaud's Vinsobres is especially compelling, most should be worth a try); anywhere from ten to twenty bucks buys the 100% Viogniers from Jaume, Les Goubert, Delas Freres, Sainte-Anne, Font de Michelle and others. Skip Lirac unless you see the name Mordoree. And buy into Châteauneuf du Pape by all means, but higher up the scale, above $20 for reliable names like La Nerthe, Le Vieux Télégraphe and Les Cailloux. Splurge on the best from Beaucastel and Grand Veneur if you're rolling in cash and can find them. The vast majority of the whites will be blends, and those with a good percentage of Roussanne and Viognier will be the most rewarding. But search hard enough and, aside from the frequent viogniers, you can pick up 100% Roussanne (Beaucastel, Texier), 100% Marsanne (Tardieu-Laurent), and 100% Grenache Blanc (St.-Cosme's Châteauneuf du Pape). Happy hunting.

TONY FLETCHER, AUGUST 2001
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