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In June, I enjoyed a couple of weeks of wine travels in France with a group of friends, culminating in a week in the southern Rhone, based roughly 40km northeast of Avignon.
The area is one that I am very fond of. I have long had a great love for the wines of the region, particularly those from the Gigondas appellation, though I certainly also enjoy dabbling in other local wines such as Lirac, Cairanne, Rasteau, Vacqueyras and the most famous of all, Chateauneuf du Pape.
Invariably, these wines have been red, and while white wines are produced they have, other than some wonderful exceptions, been mostly underwhelming, simple and flabby.
This trip, the phrase "hiding in plain sight" came to mind as I had the opportunity to try a number of startlingly good white wines that had me questioning what I had been missing.
Talking to a couple of importers following my return highlighted that many producers previously saw their whites as an afterthought to their range, whereas now they are taking them much more seriously and are looking to craft wines with much greater freshness and fruit expression on top of the textural richness which has always been a signature.
White wines from the region most commonly come from the appellations of Chateauneuf du Pape, Vacqueyras, Seugret, Sablet and Lirac, along with the broader Cotes du Rhone and Ventoux designations.
These are invariably blends of grapes little seen in NZ, that thrive in the warm climate of southern France, such as grenache blanc, clairette, picpoul, and viognier, with others thrown in for seasoning.
Never easy to find, though often very good value - specialist importers such as The Wine Importer and Maison Vauron in Auckland may be your best source - these wines will take you on a journey to somewhere enticingly different.
2016 Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone Blanc
Rating: Very good to excellent
Powerfully fragrant and floral, adding gum, blossom and sweet fruits. Drier on the palate than the nose suggests with a real, textural chewiness overlaid on the nutty, earthy palate with hints of musk. Time sees the fruit sweetness build with the wine becoming a complex and fascinating whole. Different and delicious.
2016 Domaine Les Aphillanthes Clementia Cotes du Rhone Blanc
Rating: Very good to excellent
The nose offers white flowers, honeysuckle, nuts and a melange of fresh and cooked fruits. In the mouth; orchard fruits, nuts and pepper with a zesty lemon/lime hint: apricot begins to build. There is a delightful freshness here with a lip-smacking chewiness on the delightfully long finish. Great value.
2015 Domaine Le Clos des Cazaux Vacqueyras Blanc Les Clefs d’Or
Matchstick, wild herbs, peach, warm bread and a whisper of funk lead the way. A richness and viscosity to the palate that is totally mouthfilling with almond, grilled nuts, spiciness and lemon pepper adding to the interest: fruit sweetness a background highlight. Lovely balance and a tantalising, long spicy close.