Instinctively, when one thinks of the Rhone Valley, one inevitably thinks about red wine. Not surprising, given that the most famous wines of the region are red. But, like anything in life, if you look more deeply you will find hidden treasure. Many white wines of the Rhone are exactly that: hidden treasure.
There are many white varietals grown in the Rhone, but the principle white grapes are Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains. Roussanne and Marsanne are considered the work horses of dry white Rhone wines, with Marsanne providing strength and Roussanne providing aromatic appeal. Muscat is largely dedicated to dessert wines, or highly-perfumed, soft, light-bodied dry whites. Viognier, quite possibly the least-planted white grape in the world, is revered for its ability to create wine of infinite complexity and finesse.
In the Northern Rhone, Viognier finds it home in the famed appellations of Condrieu and Château Grillet, where wine that is the stuff of legends is produced.
As you move south, Viognier becomes more of a supporting cast member, providing seductive aromas and pretty floral flavors to blends of Roussanne and Marsanne in Côtes du Rhône Blanc wines. Some noted producers see the value of increasing the percentage of Viognier in their white wines. For these wines, the experience is all about beauty and exotic appeal.
Since 2006, cousins Guillaume and Bertrand Gonnet, the sons of Châteauneuf-du-Pape producer Font de Michelle’s owners, Jean and Michel, have been very involved in running the Famille Gonnet domaine. Overall, the domaine includes 74 acres in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and 50 acres in Côtes-du-Rhône. So far, the young sons are making quite a name for themselves with an array of wines that are very well-received. After tasting their CDR Blanc, it is clear they are doing things right.
This lovely Côtes du Rhône Blanc is produced from vineyards located outside of the village of Signargues, not far from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The cepage is largely Viognier, with small amounts of Clairette in the blend. The 2016 vintage is being touted as one of the best vintages in the Rhone in over 40 years. As such, this delicious 2016 white wine has many of the same endearing characteristics found in Condrieu, that famous all-Viognier Appellation in the north. The primary difference is that this CDR Blanc is a third to one quarter the price of Condrieu.
The wine itself is just lovely, featuring a seductive nose of bright citrus fruit and wild flowers. Medium-bodied and well-balanced with moderate acidity, the palate is redolent of refreshing stone fruits and hints of minerality. Elegant with a long finish showing slight almond-skin and lime notes. Not for aging and a tremendous value at an average price of $15.99/per bottle pre-discount. The downside – availability may be tight because of limited quantities. That said, the wine is worth the search!