The most recent media tasting at the HQ of Le Vieux Pin and La Stella sister wineries afforded a terrific chance to taste and compare a slew of Rhone-style whites from new world and old. The wines ran the gamut from the unctuous to the withdrawn, audacious to elegant.
White Rhone-style blends consist of two or more white grapes, principally including Viognier, Rousanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc, and other white grapes may also be included. In the Rhone, Viognier typically flies solo in the Northern Rhone and absent in the Southern Rhone. Marsanne and Roussanne are usually found together both in and outside of the Rhone region. Outside the Rhone, blends mostly come from California and Australia, but in today’s lineup, there are also several solid versions from Canada.
Alrighty then, let’s put on our Rhone Ranger masks and get on with this showdown:
First up was Moon Curser’s 2010 Afraid of the Dark – Honeysuckle, crisp white nectarine, formidable acidity. We covered this wine more than a year ago, so it’s interesting to come back to the same vintage after such a break. Interesting to note that in the 2011 version of the Afraid of the Dark, Chardonnay takes over for Viognier.
E. Guigal 2009 La Doriane Condrieu (100% Viognier) – Entrancing spice and musk on the nose. Deceptively light mouth feel. On the palate, the musk follows through. Also a hint of peaches and toasty caramel. A complex wine to ponder with time.
Black Hills 2010 Viognier – A waxy, rounded nose… (okay, I know that description got a little too Madame Tussaud’s, but I’ll try to gather myself and bring this one in). Crisp stone fruit from the early summer, a fair bit of the old acidity. A hint of bitter almonds on the finish.
Laughing Stock 2011 Viognier – A discreet nose of apricots and orange peel. Citrus dominates on the palate. Medium acidity, and balance. A long, light and pleasant finish. This is Laughing Stock’s third Viognier vintage and from their Perfect Hedge Vineyard in Osoyoos, in the Okanagan valley.
Treana 2008 Central Coast (55% Marsanne, 45% Viognier) – Sweet, overripe fruit dominated by stewed apricots. oily, unctuous. This is not my style of wine, but I can see some of you out there really enjoying the Treana.
Le Vieux Pin 2010 Ava (Viognier/Roussanne/Marsanne) – Honeysuckle, tropical fruit, a touch of lemongrass. Balanced, the acidity is spot on to balance out the fruit. A more subtle, shier cousin to the ’11 Ava, it’s got the same genes but not as much coaxed out of it than it’s younger cousin. Only 250+ cases were produced and it’s now sold out, so turn to the ’11 to get your fix.
Le Vieux Pin 2011 Ava – A gorgeous nose of sweet honeysuckle. On the palate, there’s honey-dipped stone fruit. Gentle acidity. The finish is long and brings back hints of the sweetness from the nose. The ’11 Ava takes over where the ’10 left off, and raises Ava’s game to a whole new level while maintaining a backbone of continuity of style. There’s an air of classical refinement to the ’11 Ava that conjures up an Marie Antoinette’s fairy tale France unburdened by reality.