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!
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