Tasting T1.18 Southern Rhone Single varietal whites

It was spring 1991 when Kim and I travelled with friends on our first wine trip to France. Overnight we headed down south and arrived tired but enthusiastic in Vaucluse, Provence.

We stayed in a lovely little 3* Auberge called Les Geraniums which had a beautiful terrace serving relaxed regional cuisine and local wines from both the Cote du Ventoux and the Cote du Rhone.

Over the next few days we tasted many wines from many local villages, Gigondas, Vacqueryas, Beaumes-de-Venise etc. The reds wowed us and we feel permanently in love with their style and power and discovered the term ‘garrigue’ which is often used to describe the herbaceous, peppery, smoky tones reminiscent of the low-lying vegetation, ‘Herbes de Provence’, (i.e. Thyme, Basil, Rosemary, Marjoram, Oregano, and Bay leaf) along with Sage, Juniper and Lavender that grows wild on the sun-scorched limestone soils of the local area.

The whites however left us generally underwhelmed, sadly they were often lacking in freshness and fruit flavours, leaving a feeling of a slightly round, fat, old, dare one say it almost musty style.

Over the next few years some particularly good whites slowly started to emerge, and we became more and more interested in trying them.

Almost all white wines from the Southern Cotes du Rhone are blends of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Marsanne with some Viognier, Clairette, Piquepool, Bourbolenc and a few others. Due to the nature of these wines being blends, it is however difficult for us to easily identify which of the new wines we are likely to enjoy as this requires an understanding of the grape varieties and what they each bring to the blend.

In this tasting we are taking three of the principle grapes, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Clairette and tasting them as single varietal wines from some excellent producers. This should help us to understand quite what it is that we like and benefit from in the blended wines, and whether there is an opportunity for some of these grapes to become regular single varietal wines.

Viognier and Marsanne are both popular in blending in the southern Rhone, but as single varietals their history is more from the north and we will taste them in our North Rhone White Wine tasting (T1.14).  

So, to the Grapes…

Grenache Blanc is a major component in the white wines of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Cotes du Rhone AOC wines. Up to 10% Grenache Blanc is permitted to be included in the red wines of the Cotes du Rhone-villages AOC. The wines have high alcohol and low acidity with citrus and or herbaceous notes. It is the 5th most widely planted grape in France.

Roussanne is one of six white grapes allowed in the blends of white Chateauneuf-du-Pape. It can even be used in red Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The aroma of Roussanne is often reminiscent of a flowery herbal tea. In warm climates, it produces wines of richness, with flavours of honey and pear, and a full body. Roussanne adds aromatics, elegance and acidity with the potential to age and further develop in the bottle.

Clairette, high alcohol and low acidity, yielding wines that are sometimes described as flabby and tend to oxidize. As with other Rhone white varietals used in many blends and few single varietal wines. 

Each of these grape varieties has been described as providing full, flabby and oxidised wines when grown in warm/hot climates and when the vines growth has been left unchecked. This explains a lot of my early feelings towards blended wines from the southern Rhone that I tasted many years ago.

Hopefully better pruning, restrictions on yields plus improvements in the wineries are changing these grapes for the better, but either way, we should get an idea of what each grape variety brings to the party.

As mentioned before there are not a lot of wineries making these single varietals and perhaps even less making them at a high level. So, we have restricted our choices to a few quality specialists, all from Chateauneuf-du-Pape.


In the last few days, it has been confirmed that Gigondas has been granted an AOC for white wine, starting with the 2023 vintage. The principal grape of which must be Clairette Blanche and this must account for at least 70% of the blend. The other main grapes that can be involved in the blend are, Bourbolenc blanc, Clairette rose, Grenache blanc and gris, Marsanne blanche, Piquepoul blanc and Rousanne. Viognier and Ugni blanc can also be included as secondary grapes but cannot represent more than 5% of the blend. We will watch and taste these new wines with interest.

To the Domaines….

Chateau de Vaudieu

Originaly built in 1767 by Admiral Gerin, the estate has been a vineyard for more than 250 years. Gabriel and Juliette Meffre aquired the Chateau and grew the area under vine to 70 hectares. On his death in 1987, his daughter Sylvette Brechet took charge soon joined by her sons Laurent in 1990 and Julien in 2006. The estate is now under the control of Laurent.

Domaine Bastide Saint-Dominique

Built around a former 16th century chapel, the estate was created by Marie-Claude and Gérard Bonnet with only a handful of hectares. In 1999, their son Eric started working with them and now takes care of the whole process from production to vinification with a more innovative approach. Red Bottle has been importing their wines for a few years now.

Chateau des Tours

This domaine is owned and run by the Reynaud family of Chateau Rayas, one of the most famous and expensive of all Chateauneuf-du-Pape wineries. Emmanuel Reynard ran this domaine from 1989 and took over Rayas and Fonsalette (also in the family) on the death of his uncle Jacques in 1997.

Domaine Raymond Usseglio

Francis Usseglio came from Italy and settled in Chateauneuf-du-Pape in 1931, producing his first wine in 1949. In 1963 Raymond and his wife took over and created Domaine Raymond Usseglio. Their son Stephane was just 22 in 1999 when he became the new generation to run the domaine.

Chateau de Beaucastel

In 1549, Pierre de Beaucastel bought a barn with a plot of land. Fast forward to today where Jean-Pierre and Francois, sons of Jacques Perrin have run the estate since their father’s death in 1978. Seven sons of the 5th generation work closely with them in what is an incredible family concern. Possibly the most famous name in Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

This evenings tasting will be conducted by myself and Harry, with able (or not) assistance lent by Kim, Jen, Luke & Claire.

To the wines…

1st up is…

Chateau de Vaudieu - Clos du Belvedere 2020

The Clos du Belvedere is the most beautiful parcel of Blanc de Vaudieu. It sits at altitude, on an exceptional terroir, this is an ultra-mineral "pure Grenache" cuvée. Only 3000 bottles are produced in each vintage and they only produce in great vintages.

Nose: Pale straw on first viewing. Citrus, apples and pears very much on the forefront. Hints of vanilla coming through, very limey towards the end. An interesting start…

Palate: Fantastic notes of citrus and limes. Really creamy and smooth, this is absolutely gorgeous. Really lovely and smooth structure with perfect balance. Medium-full bodied with moderate acidity. A lot of ageing potential here but already drinking beautifully. A lovely long finish brings this first wine to an epic close. What a start!!

Domaine Bastide Saint-Dominique – Chapelle 2020

Only 900 bottles are produced of this wine made from 100% Clairette Rose. The grapes are from the plateaux of Pignan and St Georges within Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The soil is sand with some pebbles. Pale and light, elegant and precise with a pure and flavourful palate. A finely balanced wine.

Nose: Pale straw on first viewing with slight hints of yellow. Floral, orange blossom… like a really light tangerine. Vanilla from the oak is very present but not overpowering at all. Very slight hints of honey coming through as well.

Palate: So close to honey… floral notes very much coming through, that orange blossom above with light tangerine. Grapefruit on the end with a very small amount of acidity on the end. Very light acidity with a medium-full body. This is still very young and definitely needs a few more years but it is extremely promising. This is going to be incredible in my opinion. A full length finish is just what we want to end on!

Chateau de Vaudieu -   Les Clairettes de Gabriel 2017

This cuvée is made from their best plot of Clairette on a soil of gray limestone with flint. A Clairette with a nice acidity, a full mouthfeel and a slight bitterness that lengthens the wine.

Nose: Yellow on first viewing with slight hues of gold. Honey, orange blossom, vanilla. A much more intense and deep nose than what we’ve had so far. Honey dew melon, pineapple as well there are definite hints of exotic fruit. You can almost smell the minerality.

Palate: This is very gourmandise… rich, not creamy but just so lovely and smooth. Vanilla from the oak with white flowers and orange blossom. So different and interesting. A full body with moderate acidity. A medium-full length finish, this wine is going to age very well over the next 5-7 years. A very good wine. Really impressive!

Chateau des Tours -  Grenache Blanc 2016

This cuvee is 100% Grenache Blanc. The grapes are picked when they are as ripe as possible to help with ageing. It is generous, deep and perfectly balanced between roundness and freshness

Nose: Gold in colour on first viewing. You can tell the age is really coming through here. Marmalade, honey, this is so deep and intense. Beautiful caramelised pears with salted caramel almost. So beautiful.

Palate: Wow… this is incredible. Deep intense notes of honey and marmalade. All the rich aromas from above have translated beautifully on the palate. An incredible balance of fruit with the tertiary characteristics of honey and marmalade. A medium body with high acidity and a full length finish. Make no mistake, this will continue to age but is perfectly ready to drink now. Outstanding.

Chateau de Vaudieu -   Les Vielles Roussanne 2018

This cuvée comes from the oldest vines of Roussanne on a soil of grey limestone with flint, which brings it acidity and balance. The alcoholic fermentation is done in Burgundy rooms, where the Roussanne will remain 12 months in ageing on the lees.

Nose: Gold colour on first viewing. Pears, citrus, white flowers. Beautiful aromas, very moreish. Vanilla and almonds as well coming through. Honeysuckle and marmalade towards the end. Cracking stuff!

Palate: Almonds and honey immediately on the palate. So moreish, every sip you take you want another one immediately afterwards. The structure and balance are absolutely perfect. A true representation of Roussanne. Full body, full acidity with a moderate to full finish. This wine is going to age for at least another 7-9 years, however is perfect for drinking now as well. Smashing!

Domaine Raymond Usseglio – Cuvee Pure Roussanne 2017

From two distinct appellation terroirs, this is from the marriage of sandy soils with northern exposure and clay soils mixed with large, smooth, rounded stones sloped to the South.

Nose: Gold colour on first viewing. Wet stone, tarte tatin and honey. If you can imagine what all three would smell like together, that is exactly what we got. The minerality was so intense you could smell it on the nose. Tarte tatin from the intense fruit aromas that have clearly aged very well. Honey on the end bringing the sweetness of the fruit and minerality together. It smelt so pure.

Palate: Again structure and balance is perfect. Honey, marmalade, tarte tatin. Very different from the last perhaps more pure. Therefore not a huge amount of notes or hints. Just pure Roussanne. A medium – full body with moderate acidity and a medium length finish. This was so different and a pleasure to drink. This was my last bottle of this (I only bought 3 back in 2019) and I’m so glad we used it. A great wine.

Chateau de Beaucastel  – Cuvee Pure Roussanne 2017

Nose: Gold colour on first viewing. This wine is incredibly rich. You know when you can just smell that something is going to be so rich to eat/drink? This was it. Honey, marmalade, poached pears. This was epic. (So it should be given the Chateau). Truly an intense wine to smell, fantastic vanilla and butter from the oak. The palate will be interesting…

Palate: Very brooding. I don’t think she was ready to wake up just yet… it took a while but we got there in the end. Pears, marmalade, honey and orange blossom. Perfectly balanced, the structure was on point. Crème brûlée, beautiful melange from the oak and the fruit. Full body, moderate acidity and a medium-length finish. This could certainly go for another 4+ years. If anyone has a bottle I would certainly say you could drink now. However if you wanted to see it hit peak maturity then wait and see. A fantastic wine to end a seriously intense tasting.  


Well… this was different. There are so many words I wish I could use instead but ‘different’ just typifies it perfectly. This was always going to be a serious test, (I think some of our tasters would agree that this one was tough). These wines are extremely different and also rare from this particular region so perfecting them for wine makers is even harder. However by in large they have certainly smashed out some incredible wines. Hats off to all of them.

I would definitely suggest purchasing any of these wines, they were all extremely good in their own ways. However at the end of the day it is the scores that you will all use to see what you might prefer to purchase for the price… so without further ado.

The scores…

Clos de Belvedere 2020 – 90 Points

Chapelle 2020 – 88 Points

Les Clairettes de Gabriel – 90 Points

Grenache Blanc – 93 Points

Les Vieilles Roussanne – 93 Points

Cuvee Pure Roussanne – 92 Points

Roussanne Vieille Vignes – 94 Points

Almost every single wine in the outstanding category… that’s how good this tasting was. Personally I am not surprised that Beaucastel came out on top. However I am a bit surprised that all of the others were so close. As my father said previously, white wines from the southern Rhone have really come a long way since the 90’s.

Thank you all for reading, we’ve got a couple of weeks off now so we’ll be back W.C. 17th October.

Hope you enjoyed it as always!

David & Harry

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  • Kim

    Excellent blog that provides a very accurate summary of the tastes and challenges presented. One of my favourite tasting so far.

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