Côtes du Rhône White

Book-ended to the top and bottom by equally renowned neighbours, Burgundy and Provence, the Côtes du Rhône region straddles the namesake river’s banks for approximately 200kms from Vienne in the north to just below Avignon in the south. Encompassing 170 villages, this was once part of Narbonese Gaul where Romans founded terraced vineyards around Vienne late in the 2nd century BC, though some significant development in the region’s wine-making history corresponds with the surprising arrival of Popes in the 14th century. Displaced from their traditional seat in Rome due to the so-called western-schism, a splitting of the Catholic Church, and hemmed in by the upheaval of France and England’s 100 Years’ War, the papal retreat to Avignon was prolonged for nine successions. Competitively inclined, the exiled Popes and Cardinals developed ever-larger farming estates on tracts of Rhône Valley lands that had been ceded to the church by various minor French rulers — becoming known as the Comtat Venaissin. Gradually expanding the vineyard plantings secured a local wine source and also provided revenue from the export of surplus production. 500 years onward, long after the Popes had vacated their summertime residence at Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Papal Castle) to reoccupy the Vatican, the Rhône region’s epicenter of Avignon was anointed with a new title in 1966. This time, though, with the secular designation — ‘Capital City of Côtes du Rhône Wine.’

What is perhaps less well known to longer-term readers of DéClassé, is that along with their primary output of signature, blended red wines, the Côtes du Rhône vineyards also produce a small host of notable white grapes and related wine styles: Clairette Blanche, Bourboulenc, Marsanne Blanche, Viognier, Muscat Blanc, and in the case of this week’s featured bottling — a blend of 80% Roussanne with 10% splashes of Grenache Blanc and Ugni Blanc that qualifies for Côtes du Rhône AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlée) standards.

The Famille Castor, comprised of 5th generation winemakers, Gérard and Jeannette, along with their inheriting sons, Jérémie and Raphaël, now the 6th in the lineage, are demonstrating that there are few shortcuts in mastering the juggling act of expanding vineyard holdings from 7 to 150 hectares, developing a distinctive character in their wines, and being commercially viable at very approachable price points. Look no further than here in this DéClassé featured bottling of Château Saint-Nabor Côtes du Rhône White 2015 – for very convincing evidence that it’s possible to keep ‘all the balls in play.’ At home in the nearby medieval village of Cornillon, their father, the mayor, still keeps a watchful and supportive eye on his sons’ stewardship at the winery. I’ll muse that he has very little to fear, concerning the immediate future and the continued success of the family endeavour. To this end, you could make a small contribution by picking at least 3 or 4 of these attractive bottles – at $13.95, why wouldn’t you?

CHATEAU SAINT-NABOR COTES DU RHONE WHITE 2015
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #485532 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 13.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Rhône, France
By: Earl Vignobles Saint-Nabor
Release Date: April 1, 2017

Tasting Note
Stone fruit, delicate tropical notes, and a hint of waxed honey mark the flavour profile of this somewhat more unusual, mid-bodied white wine. Perfectly satisfying as an apéritif with salmon canapés, pear, camembert and prosciutto wraps, you might also try serving this alongside a cold platter of smoked fish or mildly spiced Asian and Indian dishes.

Côtes du Rhône Alert

Providing Domaine de la Valériane with its namesake, Valérie Collomb
is building an enviable reputation for the 40 hectare family farm. Located in the
small village of Domazan just outside the city of Avignon, the current property
was consolidated by her parents from several existing vineyard plots in the early
1980’s. Geographically, this is at the lower end of the crescent-shaped areas in
the Southern Rhône Valley – renowned for the prolific output of so-called ‘GSM’
blends (Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre) among numerous other variations.

As far as familiar French wine regions go, these demarcated areas represent a
relatively newer set of AOC’s (Appellation d’Origin Contrôlée), most of which were
only created in the late 1930’s, with another 10 areas added in 2004. Primary
groupings for wines produced fall into 3 categories: Côtes du Rhône – the least
stringent, Côtes du Rhône–Villages is more noteworthy, particularly those with
the actual village name added and finally so-called Cru, representing the highest
quality available. All in all, with very healthy and sustainable production levels of
around 350 million bottles a year, CDR wines will continue to be offered at highly
competitive pricing well into the foreseeable future.

This week’s DéClassé recommended bottling is an unusually limited blend that
uses only 2 equal parts drawn from 23 allowable grape varieties: 50% Syrah
and Grenache. Notably though, this offering is being produced from the fruit of
30 to 40-year-old vines, which thrive here in the clay-limestone soils covered with
large stone pebbles – thus justifying the moniker of ‘vielles vignes’ (old vines). As
well, fermentation and aging of the harvest only takes place in concrete vats, so
this particular blend never sees the influence of wood – thereby displaying much
softer tannins and more natural character than a wine that has been Oak-aged.

This is ready to go now, though will hold up for another year or so. As the vintner
is unsure of which Gold Medal stickers to place on the bottle: either the equally
prestigious Concours de Mâcon or the Concours Général de Paris 2013, this
wine is selling quickly –buy at least 2 if not half a case to cover your summer!

Valeriane

DOMAINE DE LA VALÉRIANE VIEILLES VIGNES CÔTES DU RHÔNE 2012
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #374280 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.95
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in: Rhône, France
By: Valérie Collomb, Prop.-récolt
Release Date: May 24, 2014

Tasting Note
This is a medium-bodied, fruit-driven wine that will develop some spiciness when
paired with a broad variety of food fare from the oven or the grill. These might
include ratatouille, Porcini-crusted roast lamb, chicken Tikka Masala and Chevre,
Brie and Camembert cheeses.

Roussanne Alert

This Domaine, run by the brothers Michel and Andre Berthet-Rayne, began in
the 1880’s as a modest 6 hectare vineyard plot. 4 generations onward, this
winery’s holdings have swelled to 25 in the one of the Côtes du Rhône region’s
most desirable locations – Cairanne. At the edge of the sun-baked Plan de Dieu
plateau this is part of the ‘Villages’ appellation. Officially including the name of the
village, this AOC designation signifies a superior grade of wine being made here
in the Southern Rhône Valley. Elevated quality is due to stringent requirements
that includes pruning techniques to both thin the vines for better aeration and
lower the grape yields – resulting in more characterful and concentrated fruit.
As of this vintage, the farm’s output is also certified organic and chemical-free.

Influencing the character of this terroir is the clay and calcareous (calcium-rich)
soil covered in the drainage-promoting, crushed rock top layer left behind by the
retreating Rhône glacier. Now in its place, the frigid winds of the Mistral (derived
from ‘miserable’) blow for upwards of 150 days per year, often at near-hurricane
speeds! Though frequently destructive, an upside of these blasts is that they blow
off the moisture-loving fungus growth in spring and cool the vine stock and grape
clusters during the hottest, wilting periods of summer.

The harvest and vinification involves 100% hand picking and sorting, as well as,
fermentation in individual tanks to better ensure that this equal-parts blending
of Clairette, Marsanne, Bourboulenc and traditional star variety Roussanne
– is of a consistently high-caliber.

First established as a wine growing region by the Greeks in the 4th century BCE,
more recently this wine won a Silver Medal at the prestigious Concours Général
Agricole de Paris 2012. With this release you can dare to think that a white wine
from the Côtes du Rhône can be as rich and satisfying as its red counterparts!

Cairanne

BERTHET-RAYNE TRADITION CAIRANNE CÔTES DU RHÔNE VILLAGES 2011
VINTAGES –LCBO Product #354100 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.95
14.0% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in: Rhône, France
By: Dom Andre Berthet-Rayne – Earl Les
Release Date: Mar 1, 2014

Tasting Note
With its tell-tale notes of pear, plums and touches of honey, this weighty-white
also delivers a fine supporting minerality imparted from calcium-laden soils.
Best served with food, try this with roasted vegetable minestrone, lamb and
grilled poultry and fish.