Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Winter Whites

You might think of white wine exclusively for drinking on a sunny porch during the summer, but white wines also can be full bodied and pair well with heartier winter dishes. 

If you aren't a fan of white wine, Southern Rhone whites will change your mind.

While the Rhone Valley is primarily know for it's red wines, the Rhone Valley produces delicious, full bodied white wines. 

Wines from the Rhone valley are almost always blends, and the primary grape varietals used in white blends are Marsanne (mahr-SAN), Rousanne(ROO-sahn), and Viognier (vee-oh-nyay).

What does each grape variety contribute?

Marsanne is soft and full bodied, providing peach, melon, and honeysuckle flavors.

Rousanne provides herbal tea notes along with providing acidity.

Viognier tastes like peaches and apricots. These flavors are often called stone fruit (referring to the pit) or tree fruit (as opposed to berries). This is a very aromatic grape, with strong floral and honey aromas.

Viognier is more common in the Northern Rhone, where its best expressed in Condrieu, but Condrieu is two to three times the price of Southern Rhone whites, so maybe we'll come back to that one later...

Grenache Blanc is the white berried relative of Spain's Garnacha. Its fairly neutral flavored, with a lighter body than either Marsanne, Rousanne, or Viognier. It is used as a blending grape, along with Picpoul, Clairette, and Ugni Blanc.

Full Bodied and Aromatic

If you are a fan of full bodied, buttery Chardonnays, then Cotes du Rhone whites will be right up your alley.

How does the climate influence the wine?

Cotes du Rhone  translates to the Slopes of the Rhone, the hills that form the valley along the southern part of the Rhone river. Vineyards in the south of France have a warmer climate than the northern Rhone, therefore the grapes get much riper. This leads to higher alcohol levels, which enhance the perception of the wine's body.

The grapes are all fairly low acid, and the warm vineyards help keep the wines low acid as well. This suggests two things: that the wines may not handle extended aging well, and that they won't taste good when very cold. 

Don't stick this one in your cellar -
This is a wine to enjoy right now!

Take the bottle out of your refrigerator about half an hour before you plan on opening it. Your fridge is about 40 deg F and this wine really needs to warm up to about 55 to be at its best.

Here are some to try:

Les Dauphines is a low cost introduction to Southern Rhone whites. I picked this up at Cost Plus, where it cost about $10 after I joined their wine club by giving them an email address.

This blend is about 2/3 Grenache Blanc, blended with Marsanne, Clairette, and Viognier. Its fresh and floral with some citrus flavors. Notice how it has a fuller body than you were expecting for a white wine. Try it with a ham sandwich.

Guigal ($16) is a large French producer that may be easier for you to find. This blend is about 2/3 Viognier, so it will have a more floral aromas. Think white flowers, honeysuckle, maybe white peach. 

Try this one with roast pork accompanied by baked apples. Yum. It also goes well with mu shu pork, or any dish that features hoisin sauce.
Band of Sisters is made with Marsanne, Rousanne, and Grenache Blanc grown in Washington State

This blend is about half Marsanne, one third Rousanne, and the rest is Grenache Blanc. 

Band of Sisters has nice body and rich texture with flavors that remind me of Asian pears and herbal tea. This blend has a little more acid than the French versions of this blend, which makes it very versatile. 

Try Band of Sisters with salsa verde chicken tacos or pasta with a light cream sauce. I found it at Portalis (about $16), but you can buy it online if you can't make it to Seattle.

I hope that you've discovered that white wine isn't just for summer, and it isn't just for seafood. 



  1. what hearty dish or perhaps a cheese would you recommend with one of these Winter whites sir?

    1. Southern Rhone whites are lush and fruity, so try contrasting that with an herb rub on roast chicken, pork, or even lamb. These wines also work well with mildly spiced Indian food. Korma has a creamy texture that mirrors the texture of the wine.

      And how silly of me to forget about the cheese!

      Try baking chevre and roasted vegetables (don't forget the red and yellow peppers) together in a tart to wash down with a Cotes du Rhone Blanc.

      Try nibbling on a semi-firm sheep's milk cheese like Manchego or Ossau Iraty while sipping a Cotes du Rhone Blanc, which would also go with a cow's milk cheese like Caerphilly (a hard cheese with a mild salty tang) or Delice de Bourgogne (soft, gooey, and smells like straw and mushrooms).