Anyone who drinks even a little bit of wine probably has heard of ABC drinkers – Anything But Chardonnay! Or perhaps you know a “red only” wine drinker next door.

There is a revival going on with several white wines. Chenin Blanc is making a comeback. Chardonnay is becoming less oak-driven and more food friendly. Obscure French grapes are making Cotes du Rhone whites popular again.

Grape Sense focused on the geography of the Cotes du Rhone region in a July 2010 column. The Cotes du Rhone region sits at the very southeastern corner of France above Provence and below Beaujolais and Burgundy. The area is broken down into about 20 appellations or regions.

The reds offer a great contrast to many of the big and in-your-face wines of California, Australia, and even South America. The white wines are much lesser known but are a great alternative to Chardonnay and often a white that red lovers can appreciate.

You won’t find a Cotes du Rhone white wine in many supermarkets or liquor stores. You may have to go to a wine specialty shop. But I’ve found quite a few in Indiana.
The wines have a better balance and some of the earthiness you don’t usually find in whites. There is balance in the good Cote du Rhone whites that make them great as a standalone wine or with food.

There are three primary grapes. The first is Viognier, one of the most floral wines you will ever come across. Viognier is believed to be an ancient grape grown mostly in the northern Rhone region. The variety nearly disappeared in the 1960 before regaining some popularity.

There has been resurgence in Viognier in recent years even in this country. The California Central Coast has more than 2,000 acres planted in the grapes, thanks largely to a group known as the Rhone Rangers who plant red and white Rhone grapes.

A wine made of 100 percent Viognier can be quite delightful. The wine has a huge floral nose that might remind you of apricots or sweet fruit like an orange. Usually the wines are made in a dry style which makes them more interesting for the red wine drinker.

The other two grapes are more obscure. Rousanne and Marsanne don’t roll right off most American’s favorite wine lists. It’s not impossible to find a 100 percent bottling of either grape, but it’s rare.

The two are almost always blended. Roussanne is a bit sour or tart and usually gets some barrel fermentation. The characteristics on the nose and palate are floral but nothing compared to Viognier. Roussanne is a rich and spicy white that’s full bodied enough for winter meals.

Marsanne stands out for its deep golden color in the glass. The taste characteristics are often described as nut, spice, and pear.

Individually the wines are probably interesting for real wine geeks. But when the three grapes are blended together you get a rich white wine that will appeal to those ‘red only’ people, easy to pair with food, and introduce your wine friends to something brand new.

Howard’s Picks:
La Vieille Ferme Blanc
– Here is a Cotes du Rhone white that’s pretty easy to find. It has a couple of other odd grapes not mentioned above (Bourboulenc and Ugni Blanc) but it’s a good representation of what you’ll find in Cotes du Rhone whites. It does have Rousanne in the blend. I found it easy on the palate with nicely-balanced acidity and a hint of lime. For $8.99, it’s an easy exploration into something different.

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