For quality textural whites, consider Laudon in the Rhône. These wines represent remarkable value for money. For publication in the week of 13 May 2019.
Four in five bottles produced in the Rhône are red. But the region produces some excellent whites, which we explore this week.
Condrieu and Saint Peray in the Northern Rhône are world famous and command high prices. Soon the world will start to appreciate whites from the Laudon area in the Southern Rhône.
Andrew Jefford, the noted wine writer, believes Laudon is the best village for white wines in the Rhône region. “It is one of the most unusual villages in the Cotes du Rhône.” Indeed, he said, the most exciting current project in France was the “revelation of terroir in the Southern Rhône region”.
About 7 per cent of wine from the famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOC is white. Laudon makes much more as a proportion of the total. Almost one bottle in five there is white compared with the average of 6 per cent of whites from the entire Rhône Valley last year.
Laudun has applied to join the 17 existing Rhône cru – wines recognised as being the best in the Rhône. The paperwork was submitted to the national regulatory body, the Institut national de l’origine et de la qualité, in 2013. The result will probably become known by 2022.
Caroline Lefièvre is the project manager for the cru application. She works for the winemakers’ professional body, the Syndicat des Vins de Laudun. She acknowledged the extended time frame and said it was typical for that kind of application.
Laudun has to prove it is recognised by its peers, show it sells quality wine and provide lots of data about the region. It must also provide soil samples. Winemakers from other regions visit to assess the local wine.
Wine has been made in Laudun for about 2,500 years. Vines are known to have been planted around Caesar’s Camp, a large fort on a vast plateau near the village of Laudun, from the fifth century before Christ. The river was a strategic water-way so the fort’s garrison were stationed there to control it. Romans lived in the area for more than 1,000 years. Earthenware jars used to store wine from that era, called dolia, have been found in the region.
In 1599 Olivier de Serres became known as the father of French agriculture after the publication of his famous book the Theatre of Agriculture. It was the most influential work about winemaking for two centuries after its publication. In the book de Serres described Laudun wines as “among the best in France”.
Laudun is one of 21 villages that make up the group known as the Cotes du Rhône named Villages. It encompasses the villages of Tresques, Saint-Victor La Coste and Laudun. Last year Laudon produced about 563,000 bottles of white. Major export destinations include North America and the United Kingdom.
By law, all whites are a blend of at least three grapes. Grenache Blanc is the most widely planted variety – it’s about a third of the total for white grapes. Clairette, Viognier and Roussanne are also widely planted. Currently 24 wineries operate in the area. Production has boomed in recent years, with a 37 per cent increase between 2012 and 2018.
Andrew Jefford believes Laudun is “a perfect environment to grow vines”. Vineyards are planted from the floor of the valley of the River Tave up to the surrounding hills. The area has three main soil types and flavours vary depending on the soils and the grape variety grown.
Jefford describes the whites as “complex and balanced” because of the influence of stony soils, which give structure, and sandy soils which add finesse and fruit flavours. Most wines are very reasonably priced, retailing for between 6.5 and 11.5 Euro in the villages.
“South Africa is making a name for itself with complex white blends but Laudun wines are just as good for a lot less money. Given the inflated prices of white burgundy, Laudun offers an excellent option if you’re looking for grown-up wines, especially to have with food,” Jefford said.
Laudun whites have aromas of tropical fruit, white peaches and apricots. In the mouth they offer a rounded sensation with a persistent often velvety finish.
Some of the nicest wines tasted at the 10th Discover Rhône festival in Avignon included the 2017 Michel Chapoutier Joseph Viola, a zingy and expressive blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Viognier, and the 2016 Villa Sinnae made by Laudun Chusclan Vignerons, a co-operative.
The former gets its flavours from the quality fruit and spent time only in stainless steel, while the latter received 11 months in older oak which provides delicious texture. The Sinnae has a majority of Viognier (35 per cent). Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Bourboulenc contribute their various magics.
The latter company also makes a lovely red from a 50:50 blend of Grenache and Syrah called the Dolia, an homage to the clay jugs mentioned earlier. The wine tastes of zesty sour cherries with a touch of tar and earth on the nose. Jefford noted that Laudun has lots of cherry trees and “the flavours often show up in the wines”.
Other impressive whites included the 2016 Maestral from Domaine des Maravilhas and the 2017 Excellence by Laudun Chusclan Vignerons co-operative. The latter is a textured blend of Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Viognier and Roussanne while the former is from a biodynamic estate.
Also lovely were the 2017 vintage from Domaine Carmelisa, another textured blend of Viognier, Roussanne, Clairette and Grenache Blanc, and the 2017 Sols & Sent (translates as “soils and aromas”) by Vignerons des Chemins, 60 per cent Grenache Blanc with the balance Viognier and Roussanne. Some are shown in the photograph.
More information about Laudun wines can be found here.
We finish with a mention of what must be one of France’s smallest regions: Clairette de Bellegarde in the Rhône. The region made about 36,000 bottles last year, all from the Clairette grape, from only 8 hectares of vines. Wines are fresh while young but develop flavours of honey and lime as they age. Some examples are shown below.
Disclosure: Organisers of the Discover Rhône festival supplied hotel accommodation for three nights for Stephen Quinn plus two fine dinners. Quinn paid his own travel. The Syndicat des Vins de Laudun supplied six sample bottles.