To get a sense of what kind of white Rhône wines are out there, we shopped at stores, both in person and online, and bought dozens for a tasting. We did not taste them blind because we found so many kinds, from all over the Rhône Valley. The most common, and lowest priced, tend to be Côtes-du-Rhône, which sometimes cost less than $15. Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which is a well-known name because of its red brother, generally costs between $25 and $40. Condrieu, which has long been prized but has become even more so with the increasing awareness of its Viognier grape, tends to cost $50 and up.
Trying to offer one description of these wines is just about impossible, which is as it should be because they are made in different places from all sorts of different blends. What all of the successful wines had in common—and the vast majority were successful—was an earthiness and a weighty fullness that, at times, we referred to as an almost brown or honeyed taste, generally with ripe fruit, good acidity and, at times, some hints of apricot or mango. That is especially true of the wines heavy in Viognier. (Condrieu can sometimes be so flowery in youth that it is mistaken for sweet, but, unlike many other Viognier wines from around the world, it can also be remarkably light on its feet.)
A Sampling of Rhône Whites
These are whites of some heft and they need food. They pair well with all sorts of medium-weight dishes. Condrieu is made from Viognier, but most of these wines are made from various blends of Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Roussanne and Marsanne.
Domaine de la Janasse Côtes-du-Rhône 2008. Filled with juicy honeydew melon and pear tastes—some fleshy lychee, too—with a special, fresh liveliness. Tangy, earthy and simply lovely to drink. Good with whole fish.
E. Guigal Côtes-du-Rhône 2007. A white wine of real weight and earthiness. John said it made him think of white leather. Peachy, with a bit of almond nuttiness. Charming and very real.
Eric Texier Côtes-du-Rhone 'Brézème' 2007. Dollar for dollar, our favorite wine of the tasting, walking the line perfectly between easy drinkability and earthy, unique character. Very juicy, with honeydew fruit and kiwi brightness, with a twist of Persian lime. A real winner. 100% Roussanne.
Perrin & Fils 'Reserve' Côtes-du-Rhône 2008. Lovely, lively fruit, with the kind of character to stand up to anything. Complete, with real stuffing and a very special vibrancy. Gives extra oomph to fried oysters. Terrific price.
Domaine Chante Cigale Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2007.. Good tropical fruits and relaxed oak, with fine acidity and a kind of brown-butter and sage core that's quite fetching. Mouth-coating and sensuous.
Domaine du Vieux Lazaret Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2007. Nicely rich and filled with citrusy fruit, yet with a bold kind of mouthfeel that lasts. A wine of substance.
Domaine Lafond 'Roc-Epine' Lirac 2007. . Lirac is across the river from Châteauneuf-du-Pape and right next to the famous rosé area of Tavel. We both sipped this, looked at each other and said, "Turkey!" Not only did it taste like it would pair well with turkey, but there was something about the relaxed, comforting charm that reminded us of Thanksgiving dinner. Fruity on the outside, steely on the inside and filled with character.
Guy Bernard 'Bassenon' Condrieu 2007. A fine example of the famous Viognier wines of Condrieu. Honeysuckle and orange blossoms, but with so much fleshiness that it has the presence of a red. "Floral yet fleshy—amazing," Dottie said at one point. John said the fleshiness reminded him of yellow squash, and we must say it's the first time we ever referenced squash in a tasting. Different and interesting. A white to stand up to lamb stew. Like most Condrieu, made in small quantities—just 300 cases—but keep your eyes out for one.