I have grown quite partial to white Rhône blends, and happily, a few local versions have arrived on the doorstep over the past week or so providing quite impressive quality/value propositions. The grape varieties involved are marsanne, roussanne and viognier in varying styles and proportions, with each satisfying in their own way.
But first a brief note on the grape varieties themselves. Marsanne makes full bodied white wines and tends to higher yields, forming part of the blend in white St-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage and Hermitage in the northern Rhône and in white Côtes du Rhône more generally. It can tend to produce flabby wines, left to its own devices. In Australia, it finds homes in Nagambie and the Yarra Valley, as well as a smattering of other regions. Roussanne is also allowed in blends of white Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage and St-Joseph, but suffers more from issues in the vineyard than marsanne (irregular yields, powdery mildew and rot, among others). It is aromatic and has some acidity, and adds these characters in blends with marsanne, which contributes the body. Its Australian footprint is small. Viognier tends to produce wines that are high in alcohol and colour, low in acidity and with powerful aromatics of apricots and stone fruits. Its finds its most famous homes in Condrieu and the tiny Chateau Grillet in the northern Rhône valley. In Australia, it is grown all over but appears to perform best in cool to temperate regions with great care applied in the vineyard and winery.
Here are a few local versions that impressed.
d’Arenberg The Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne 2014, McLaren Vale
A blend of 74% viognier and 26% marsanne from McLaren Vale fruit. Golden in colour, with highly aromatic expressions of apricot and honey. The palate has nice length and balance, with mid range acidity, a full body and some spritz on the finish. Very drinkable, and great value at only $15. Good
Abv: 13.2%, Price: $15, Source: sample, Vendors and website: http://www.darenberg.com.au, Tasted: 2015
Lark Hill Mr. V Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier 2014, Canberra District
A completely different style here. A blend of the 3 varieties with fruit from the Canberra District. Also golden in colour, it has aromatics of apricot, quince, fig and yellow apples. Towards full bodied, the palate has good length and balance. Partial fermentation on skins adds some texture and interest. Good wine. Good to Very Good
Abv: 13%, Price: $35, Source: sample, Vendors and website: http://www.larkhillwinery.com, Tasted: 2015
Lark Hill Viognier 2015, Canberra District
Picking early is usually a risky thing to do, but it succeeds here. The result is a viognier with very delicate floral, stone and apricot aromatics. The palate is finely poised and mid weight, with a floral and apricot expression. A very enjoyable style of viognier at a low alcohol level that disappears quickly in the glass. Good
Abv: 11.5%, Price: $25, Source: sample, Vendors and website: http://www.larkhillwinery.com, Tasted: 2015