Guigal Côtes du Rhône Blanc, France 2018 (from £10.95, thewinesociety.com; laithwaites.co.uk) Southern France is mostly red wine country. And the Rhône Valley, which for years went with the snappy marketing tag of “think red, think Côtes du Rhône”, is perhaps especially redcentric: white wines account for just 6% of wines made in the vineyards that start just south of Lyon and stretch down to Avignon and Nîmes. They may be relatively rare, but the white wines that are made here can be particularly charming: not in a nervy, tingly or zippy style that you would find further north, but something to fill the mouth with ripe stone fruit and summer garden flowers. The fragrant, sometimes-verging-on-viscous viognier variety is at the heart of many of the most captivating Rhône whites, and the Guigal family uses plenty of it, along with the equally alluring roussanne, marsanne and others, in its Côte du Rhône blanc, which serves its peachy fruit with a drizzle of blossomy honey.
Domaine Gayda Figure Libre Freestyle Blanc, IGP Pays d’Oc, France 2018 (£14.99, or £12.99 as part of a mixed case of six bottles, majestic.co.uk) As you travel west along the Med from the Rhône through the Languedoc, you see many of the same white grape varieties being used to similar effect. Among the names to crop up most frequently (generally as part of a blend) is grenache blanc, a relation of the more celebrated red grape, grenache. It’s widely planted in the Rhône, in fact, and is often a part of white blends there (there’s a tiny bit in the Guigal, and it’s a key component of much of the best white Châteauneuf-du-Pape), adding body and smoothing harder edges. Recently, winemakers from beyond the Rhône, such as stylish Languedoc producer Domaine Gayda, have brought grenache blanc to the fore, using it as the bedrock of their superb value Freestyle blend, which has Rhône-ish pear, peach and yellow plum plus a distinctive herb-edged freshness.
Abel Mendoza Viura, Rioja, Spain 2018 (£25, virginwines.co.uk) If the Freestyle Blanc piques your interest sufficiently to see what grenache blanc can do on its own, you could do worse than follow the vineyard trail down to Navarra in northern Spain, where the variety goes by garnacha blanca, and where Poyecto Zorzal, specialists in red grenache, have produced a delightfully fresh youthful example, all juicy pear and subtle floral notes (Zorzal Garnacha Blanca 2018; £6.86, winebuyers.com). The small but adventurous bodega Abel Mendoza also makes a rare single-variety outing from the example in Rioja (Abel Mendoza Garnacha Blanca 2018; £20.59, winebuyers.com), which is broad and yellow plum juicy and, like many of the wines featured in today’s column, very good at pairing with roast white meat, although I prefer another of Mendoza’s whites, made from another component in Gayda’s Freestyle, maccabeu, or viura, which is rich, weighty, powerful, oaky, but filled with moreish fresh pear spiked with fennel.
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