While the Northern Rhône Valley is best known for Syrah, roughly 15% of the wines produced in the region are white. The whites of Condrieu and Saint-Joseph, two neighboring appellations with distinct expressions, are often underappreciated. Condrieu is devoted entirely to the production of Viognier. Saint-Joseph, Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage produce whites from only Marsanne and Roussanne.
Northern Rhône whites are a marked contrast to fashionably zingy, linear wines like Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc. These wines are distinctly lower in acidity, with a richness and perfume that can border on flamboyant. They are timeless, if not trendy, wines often overlooked on restaurant menus and store shelves.
Until the 1990s, Viognier was rarely planted anywhere beyond Condrieu. Known for its dizzying perfume and ample, often blowsy, demeanor, it is as lusty and full-throttled as whites come. Cultivated amidst the steep, sunny hills of Condrieu, it yields heady, acacia-scented wines pulsating with flavors of peach and apricot and edged by notes of musk, marzipan and spice.
In Saint-Joseph, as in Hermitage or Crozes-Hermitage, white wines are typically blends of Marsanne and Rousssane. Marsanne is the softer and more zaftig of the two, producing full-bodied wines with a honeyed, oily richness and broad pear and peach flavors. Roussanne is more pert, offering fresh herb notes, delicate floral tones and peppery spice. Fine tannins and higher acidity give Roussanne a bit more edge than Marsanne. When blended, the plushness of Marsanne and elegance of Roussanne are delightfully complementary. Cheers!
François Villard 2017 Le Grand Vallon (Condrieu); $70, 96 points. Wafting of rose petals and peach marmalade, this is the lustiest, most flamboyant white wine imaginable. It’s unabashedly hedonistic, classically Condrieu, and yet invitingly fresh and balanced. It’s a bottling that’s ready now but sure to please beyond 2030. Editors’ Choice.
Jean-Luc Colombo 2017 Amour de Dieu (Condrieu); $90, 94 points. Aromas of toast, vanilla, preserved peach and caramel are heady here, lending flair to orange cream and honey on the palate. It’s rich and unctuous, silky in texture, but fringed by pleasing bitters. A beauty already, it should evolve positively through 2027. Editors’ Choice.
E. Guigal 2015 Ex Voto White (Hermitage); $320, 93 points. Smoke, cedar and vanilla tones are pronounced now, but plenty of succulent white peach, apricot and tangerine pulses at the core of this generous white. Rippling and rich yet freshly balanced, it’s a sturdy bottling built for the long haul. Drink through 2026. Cellar Selection.
M. Chapoutier 2017 Invitare (Condrieu); $70, 93 points. Crisp white grapefruit and tangerine flavors lend an unusually spry charater to this full-bodied but pristine Condrieu. Accented by whispers of vanilla and sweet spice, it’s an alluring, expansive wine but elegant and restrained, not hulking. The finish is marked by a pleasant bite of tea tannins. Best now–2025.
Ferraton Père et Fils 2017 Les Oliviers (Saint-Joseph); $45, 91 points. A blend of equal proportions Marsanne and Roussanne, this intensely mineral white offers zesty lemon and yellow-apple flavors. Made with biodynamic grapes, it’s a juicy, concentrated sip with a thirst-quenching, tangy finish. Enjoy now–2023.
Cave de Tain 2017 Nobles Rives Marsanne (Crozes-Hermitage); $29, 90 points. On first whiff, this full-bodied Marsanne seems a bit quiet, suggesting faint earth and smoke. The palate, however, is ripe and penetrating, bursting with plump white grapefruit and apple. It’s savory yet satisfyingly fruity. The finish is marked by hits of salted nut and tobacco leaf.
Domaine Coursodon 2016 Silice (Saint-Joseph); $45, 90 points. Creamy, concentrated flavors of orange parfait and yellow peach are accented by crisp mineral tones and perfumed apple blossoms in this wine. Made from 100% Marsanne, it’s rich and rounded but maintains a sunny brightness throughout. Enjoy now–2023.