2014 E. Guigal Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc
Producer: E. Guigal
Region: Côtes-du-Rhône, France
Grape(s): Viognier (65%), Roussanne (15%), Marsanne (10%), Clairette (8%), and Bourboulenc (2%)
Tasting Notes: Apricot, peach, Meyer lemon, honeysuckle, orange blossom, white flowers
Pairings: Seared scallops, grilled Mauritian lobster, pan fried or grilled fish, Vietnamese spring and summer rolls, Bún thịt nướng with shrimp or grilled pork
Price (approximately): $13.99
I must admit, I adore southern Rhône white blends. Although they are difficult to locate, particularly in Hawaii, this E.Guigal Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc often finds a tropical home on the shelves of Tamura’s Fine Wine & Liquors.
Driven by the aromatic Viognier, this wine’s perfumed bouquet offers alluring stone fruit of peach and apricot, with honeysuckle, orange blossom, Meyer lemon and white flowers. The palate is rich, bursting with a honeyed sweetness that accentuates the ripe stone fruit. Citrus, minerality and mild acidity balance the palate in an elegant presentation. This easy-drinking wine represents incredible value in a designation (Côtes-du-Rhône) that can be hit or miss. [Below I give a few tips for reading wine labels of southern Rhône!].
Southern Rhône Valley
Winemaking practices in this region have ancient origins. At the time King Nebuchadnezzar II was building his famed Hanging Gardens of Babylon (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) in 600 B.C.E., nearby Phoenician merchants and Greek sailors with vinous ambitions set up shop and began to cultivate the vine. Greek civilization and commerce spread that early viticultural acumen. By the time the Romans occupied the region in 67 AD, winemaking was a vast industry spread across the southern region, utilizing well-established infrastructure and trade routes to expand its sphere of influence. As the Roman trail through France commenced, the Romans surmised that copious wine was an excellent excuse for a hostile takeover. I’m inclined to agree. The Roman occupation utilized the region as a respite for the Roman Legion. Even in ancient times, Southern France was the prime destination for drinking and frivolity. Party on!
At the time of the Greeks and Romans, the vinous wisdom opined that winemaking required warm climates and plenty of sunshine. Rhône Valley fit the profile, brilliantly. The region benefits from a warm Mediterranean climate that combines an abundance of sunshine, arid conditions, cooling Mistral winds, and the distant sea’s tempering maritime influence. Traversing the region, one is pleasantly greeted with the aromas of Provençal herbs that grow wild in the Valley, filling the air with olfactory delight. Be certain, however, to watch your step! Across the southern Rhône, vineyards are visibly marked with stony gravels and soils, an ancient remnant of its glacial past during the Ice Age period.
Most vinters in southern Rhône opt for blends rather than a wine produced from a single varietal. And with 19 permitted varietals, there are plenty of options for the winemaker. For the white wines, the workhorse grape varietals include Grenache Blanc, Clairette, and Bourboulenc, followed by Picardin and Picpoul. The unexciting Marsanne, finicky Roussanne and my personal favorite, the aromatic Viognier, round out the blending options.
Know Thy Label
French wine labels can often appear intimidating. Fear not; just a few guideposts can navigate your vinous journey through the wine aisle.
Basic Level: Côtes-du-Rhône. The most basic designation for wine from the region is Côtes-du-Rhône. Côtes-du-Rhône is the largest appellation in the Rhône Valley and easily produces the most wine - roughly half of the total production in the entire Valley. Under this designation, grapes can come from anywhere in the region, and winemaking requirements are less stringent. As a result, the wines broadly range from low-quality, oxidized, alcoholic wines to (albeit few) exceptional, rich and balanced wines. Although this week’s wine is a Côtes-du-Rhône designation, quality here can be a bit sparse, so traverse carefully. As with this wine (E.Guigal), look for reputable cooperatives that are known to produce consistent, drinkable wines.
Mid Level: Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages. The next quality designation is Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages. These wines originate on vineyard sites located near important winemaking villages in the southern Rhône. In these specific villages, winemakers are permitted to include the “Villages” tag on their labels, as well as the name of the specific village. These wines are characteristically more structured and higher quality than Côtes-du-Rhône. This can be prime bargain wine territory.
Top Level: AOC Specific. Specific villages have developed a reputation for producing wines of such a high quality that they were elevated to their own appellation d'origine contrôlée, or "AOC" - the highest tier of French wine classification. In Southern Rhône, look for my personal favorites in this category, Vacqueyras and Gigondas, which are consistently growing in quality and prestige, producing rustic, powerful and spicy cuvées that can rival Châteauneuf-du-Pape at a fraction of the price. Read: find value here.
The Flagship: Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The flagship AOC in southern Rhône Valley is Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This region famously crafts some of the best wine in France and, indeed, the world. It does, however, typically come with a price tag to match. While you will not find many bargain wines bearing the Châteauneuf crest, this is a truly magnificent region that should be explored as your budget permits.