Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne have travelled far beyond France, and are often blended into rich white wines that will take you on a delicious journey
Only one of this week’s wines was made anywhere near the long valley that stretches from Côte-Rôtie, south of Lyon, to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, north of Marseilles, and yet they are all Rhône-style wines. The three aromatic grapes featured today — Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne — all hail from that valley, though have travelled far within and beyond France, with enthusiastic plantings over west in the Languedoc and Roussillon as well as down under in Australia. New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, west coast USA and South Africa also dabble.
This trio are often blended in various combinations into rich, voluptuous white wines that are generous in aroma and body. Depending on the blend, aromas might include peach and nectarine, honey nut and gingerbread, blossom and honeysuckle, chamomile and verbena. With this exotic perfume evoking sunnier climes, and their rich, sometimes fat mouthfeel, they partner well with roast birds or fish, creamy dishes, and Chinese or Thai flavours with soy, ginger, lime and herbal notes. These are winter-friendly whites to get cosy with.
Eagle-eyed readers and Côte-Rôtie fans will have spotted the mention of Viognier in last week’s column, where a small percentage turned up in a red Côtes du Rhône blend with Syrah (and unusually, Grenache). In the northern Rhône region of Côte-Rôtie, Syrah is traditionally co-fermented with about 5pc Viognier to stabilise colour and add subtle perfume. The neighbouring region of Condrieu remains the benchmark for single-varietal Viognier, one of the world’s fine white wines with a price tag to match its prestige.
That co-fermenting practice has followed Syrah down into Shiraz territory in Australian regions such as Canberra, as in Clonakilla’s fine examples, and McLaren Vale, where producers like d’Arenberg also showcase Viognier in varietal or blended wines. Victoria-based Yalumba has set the benchmark here for expressive yet well-balanced Viognier (€15.95, O’Briens Wines).
As in the Languedoc, those Aussie blends show a strong Rhône influence. Côtes du Rhône Blanc can comprise a blend of six main white varieties (the other three being Grenache Blanc, Clairette and Bourboulenc). Meanwhile, up in northern Rhône regions like the heavyweight Hermitage and its more accessible little brother Crozes-Hermitage, single-varietal Roussanne has long been prized for its age-worthy wines, though it is more often blended with the less elegant but considerably less finicky Marsanne. In Australia, look out too for the unique single-varietal Marsanne from Tahbilk winery in Victoria, (€17.50, Wines Direct) — super value and worth laying down to see how it develops. (Spoiler: beautifully.) Wherever the valley takes you, it’ll be a delicious journey.
Domaine Pochon Crozes-Hermitage Etienne Pochon Blanc 2019, Rhône, France, 14pc, €25
This blend of organic, northern Rhône Marsanne-Roussanne makes a case for what this pairing can offer. Aromatic notes of nectarine skin and apricot flesh carry though on the rich, silky and creamy textured palate, where some greener herbal notes and well-balanced acidity keep things very food-friendly. An alternative for Albarino fans and a lovely dinner party pairing to carry you from seafood starters to roast white meats. whelehanswines.ie
Laurent Miquel Côte 128 Pech Sévignac Viognier 2020, Pays d’Oc, France, 13.5pc, €12.24 (from €15.30)
Night-time harvesting from hillside vines lend a freshness to cut the oily texture of this expressive Viognier, with its delicate white flower and ginger spice aromas. Think Chinese baked seabass with ginger and soy. Great value, as is their Solas Viognier at €8 (from €10). Dunnes Stores
d’Arenberg The Hermit Crab 2018, McLaren Vale, Australia, 13.5pc, €17
The name references the Rhône region of Hermitage and crustacean fossils found in limestone bedrock below d’Arenberg’s vineyards. Barrel-fermentation and ageing in French and American oak makes for a rich, complex Viognier-Marsanne. Goes well with rich or spicy white meats. Martins, Whelehans, wineonline.ie
Chassaux et Fils Roussanne 2020, Pay d’Oc, France, 14pc, €8.99
If you’re looking for something unusual yet well-priced to bring a touch of class to Sunday roast chicken, this Specially Selected Roussanne from the reliably affordable Languedoc is a solid choice: think white flower perfume, honeydew and apricot notes and generous body balanced by good freshness. Aldi
Emiliana Novas Viognier Gran Reserva, Chile, 14pc, €16.95
Pacific-cooled Viognier from Casablanca Valley given eight months oak ageing results in a charming and complex wine that sings with herb-roast fish or white meats, thanks to creamy lemon, rosemary and grilled peach aromas, a broad, rich and spicy mouthfeel and a floral-fresh finish. O’Brien’s Wine; obrienswine.ie