Have you ever tasted a white Chateauneuf du Pape? Or a Rioja Blanco? If you’re a bit adventurous and don’t mind trying new things, then these lesser-known white wines from some of Europe’s most famous red wines regions may well provide you with some great surprises! They are often significantly cheaper than their more famous red counterparts, yet they are usually grown on the same very special terroirs and vinified in the same cellars with the same tender loving care by the same top quality vignerons as the reds!
France’s Rhone region is littered with such white wines, which most wine drinkers will likely rarely have tried. In its north, not far south of Lyon, you can find white Hermitage – although you do need to look carefully as production of this wine is tiny. Made from Marsanne and Rousanne grapes grown on the famous granite hillsides which produce red Hermitage, these wines provide wonderfully fresh, mineral, complex, long-lived expressions of this unique terroir. A little further down river, and significantly lower in price, the same grapes grown on the granite hillsides of St Joseph and Crozes Hermitage produce white wines which are a little fuller and softer, with hints of white flowers, nuts and stony underlying acidity. You can find delicious examples from Yves Cuilleron, Pierre Gonon and Chapoutier.
Further south, almost all the famous wine villages of the Southern Rhone wine region produce small quantities of highly characterful and individual white wines from a mix of grapes comprising mainly Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Clairette and Viognier. The climate here is noticeably warmer – giving the white wines less acidity but fuller body – and the vegetation far more “Mediterranean”. The intoxicating scents of lavender, spice and local herbs infuse the white wines as they do the reds. There is a white wine to fit all pockets in this region, from simple, fresh, fairly neutral Cotes du Rhone Blanc up to low yielding, old vine Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc; fuller bodied, more structured and packed with interesting flavours.
Spain and Portugal are home to many of our best-loved red wine regions, but their most famous regions respectively – Rioja and the Douro – are also home to some excellent whites. White Rioja used to be very popular until the 1970s, but then sadly went out of fashion, causing producers to convert their Viura, Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca vines over to red Tempranillo. Recently however, white Rioja has been regaining its former popularity, now with a mix of styles to appeal to different tastes. From fresh, modern, gently oaked examples such as CVNE’s Vina Real Rioja Blanco to the famous, traditional styles of Marques de Murrieta’s Castillo Ygay and Lopez Heredia’s Vina Tondonia Blanco Gran Reserva – both aged in used oak barrels for 10 years or more – these wines provide fascinating alternatives to white Burgundy.
Portugal’s Douro Valley is of course most famous for the production of powerful Ports and hearty, full bodied red table wines, but it also produces crisp, minerally white wines with gently fruity flavours, subtle flinty notes and a refreshing saltiness from local white Port grape varieties such as Rabigato, Viosinho, Gouveio, and Folgazão.
Do keep your eyes open for these unusual whites in the future and snap them up when you see them – unfortunately they are not always easy to find!
Published on 21st october 2017 – Schweiz am Sonntag
Lopez de Heredia, Vina Gravonia, Rioja Blanco 2007 – CHF 25.00/75cl
Yves Cuilleron, St.Joseph Blanc, Lombard 2016 – CHF 35.00/75cl
Chateau de Chantegrive Cuvée Caroline, Graves Blanc, Bordeaux, 2014 – CHF 25.00/75cl
I love to travel and discover exciting new wines from all over the world. Yet sometimes there are wonderful surprises to be found right under one’s very nose, without having to roam too far; this was my conclusion after attending the “Swiss Wine Tasting” in Zürich last week, where over 130 of Switzerland’s best producers were presenting their wines to the press and public.
Based on this tasting, the general quality of Swiss wines has never been higher. The combination of the deliciously fresh, fruity and intense 2016 white wines and ripe-fruited, structured, fuller bodied 2015 red wines delivered many memorable tasting experiences. What surprised – and delighted me – most were that several of my favourite wines were priced under CHF25/bottle. Switzerland has an image to the outsider as being expensive, but her wines are seriously starting to offer some good value!
I particularly appreciated the diversity of flavours that Swiss whites offer, and no Swiss grape offers more individual personality than the fresh, pure, peach and apricot-fruited Petite Arvine. Without exception I would happily drink this grape from 2016 from any of the producers in the Valais whose wines I tasted. Particularly outstanding examples came from Gerald Besse, Simon Maye and Anne-Catherine & Denis Mercier. Similar to Petite Arvine in flavour, but a little fuller and rounder in body, is Amigne de Vetroz. This is a truly Swiss grape varietal; of only 40 hectares planted in the world, 10 belong to Domaine Jean-René Germanier, whose 2016 is packed full of fruit and purity. Paien (aka Heida), which is planted at higher altitudes than other Swiss white grapes, delivers excellent freshness, clarity and intensity of flavour in 2016, and at very fair prices – St Jodern Kellerei’s Heida Visperterminen 2016 at around CHF20 is a fine example. Add to this the many crisp and mineral Chasselas from the lakeside slopes of Vaud (I particularly enjoyed Luc Massy’s Clos Du Boux Grand Cru from Lavaux at CHF18/bt) and an impressive selection of fresh and floral Pinot Blancs and nutty Pinot Gris from all over Switzerland, and one really does begin to appreciate just how varied and unique Switzerland’s white wines are.
As for the reds, there were several Syrahs and Cornalins which I enjoyed from the Valais (Simon Maye’s “basic” Syrah 2016 from 30 year old vines is superb at CHF24/bt), but THE revelation of this tasting were the great value Pinot Noirs of Neuchatel. The Drei Seen region around Neuchatel has limestone soils very similar to those of Burgundy, and in distance it really is not that far away from the hallowed home of Pinot Noir. I was stunned by the silky-smooth, densely fruited Pinot Noir Tradition 2016 of Caves du Chateau d’Auvernier – my best value red of the day at only CHF17/bt – whilst Domaine de La Maison Carrée’s Pinot Noir d’Hauterive 2015 at CHF22 was my top pick of all the Pinot Noirs I tasted. This domaine is farmed biodynamically and you can taste this in its extra level of minerality, precision and vibrancy.
You may realise from the above that my attentions at this tasting were focused rather more on Suisse Romande than Deutsche Schweiz, but I did discover one fabulous producer in Aargau who was previously unknown to me – Baumgartner Weinbau. His Pinots (Blanc, Gris and Noir) were all delicious at very affordable prices between CHF15-20.
Published on 10.09.17 – Schweiz am Sonntag
Luc Massy Epesses Clos du Boux Grand Cru, Vaud 2016 at CHF 22.00/75cl
La Maison Carrée, Pinot Noir d’Auvernier, Neuchatel 2015 at CHF 27.00/75cl
Fromm Malanser Pinot Gris, Graubünden 2016 at CHF27.00/75cl