France’s Rhone Valley is famous for its Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Hermitage and Cote-Rotie red wines. Each appellation also produces a small amount of expensive white wine, but consumption of it is usually restricted to Rhone wine aficionados.
A step down in price- but still pleasing- is the white wine of Croze-Hermitage and Cotes du Rhone. In April, I tasted one from each appellation at the monthly luncheon of the Wine Media Guild, of which I am a member.
Croze-Hermitage is the largest appellation in the northern Rhone, and a neighbor to the more prestigious Hermitage and Cote-Rotie appellations. Its white wine can be made exclusively from marsanne or rousanne grapes, or by blending both.
Chapoutier is one of the most distinguished names in the Rhone Valley, and its 2010 Crozes-Hermitage La Petite Ruche white wine is worth seeking out. It’s pure marsanne with an enchanting floral and tropical fruit aroma, and very tasty melon and gooseberry flavors. The crisp acidity keeps the palate clean and the fruit flavors refreshing. It’s an ideal white wine to serve with summer vegetable or curry chicken salads. The 2010 Chapoutier Croze-Hermitage La Petite Ruche retails for approximately $27.
Cotes du Rhone wines are found in nearly every French bistro and supermarket, and range from plunk to well-made, good value wines. The key to getting quality is to focus on reputable producers such as J.Vidal-Fleury.
In 1781, Joseph Vidal founded the winery. Thomas Jefferson visited it in 1787 when he was the American ambassador to France. A century later, Gustave Vidal married a daughter of the Fleury family and her dowry allowed the vineyards to be replanted.
In 1986, Marcel Guigal, one of France’s greatest winemakers, purchased J. Vidal-Fleury and upgraded the facilities. Today, Marcel’s son Philippe oversees the winemaking and operations, along with the world-famous Guigal Cote Rotie wines.
The 2010 J.Vidal-Fleury Cotes du Rhone Blanc is 100 percent viognier. A straightforward process of fermentation in stainless steel tanks is followed by six months aging and bottling. This simple and intelligent winemaking preserves viognier’s natural floral and peach aromas and white peach and melon flavors. The wine has a pleasant mineral finish with mild acidity making it refreshing, flavorful and perfect for starting a summer party.
Worth noting is the 2010 J.Vidal-Fleury Cotes du Rhone Blanc is not subjected to malolatic fermentation- the process that gives many California viognier wines the buttered popcorn aroma and cotton candy taste that is the polar opposite of this and other Rhone Valley viognier wines.
The J.Vidal-Fleury Cotes du Rhone Blanc. It retails for about $15.