This week, I decided to really kick off fall with a heavier style of white wine, Cotes du Rhône Blanc. It is fuller bodied and also tends to be on the hotter side (meaning a higher alcohol content) than most white wines. These wines originate from the northern portion of the Rhône Valley. This area has an average of about 2800 hours of sun which not only helps ripen the grapes but increases the sugar content, which converts into alcohol during the fermentation process. This warmth is moderated by the famous Mistral winds of southern France that travel southward through the Rhône Valley. These winds can hinder the bud break process during the spring but they can also benefit the grapes by providing some overnight relief from those warm temperatures during the ripening process. This cooling effect aids the grapes in maintaining their refreshing acidity to help balance the full bodied, higher alcohol white wines. The winds also dry out the air and push away clouds, both are great for grapes.
The Rhône Valley region of France has many white wine varieties, but just like every wine region in the country, these are outlined by law. In all, the list includes 22 total white grape varieties, 18 of those are permitted in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape (CDP) area alone. The grapes allowed in a Cotes du Rhône Blanc blend are Bourboulenc, Clariette, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Picpoul Blanc, Viognier, and Ugni Blanc. Some of these grapes are made into single varietal wines but again, wine law prevents the wine from being labeled as such. Each grape has its own qualities that, when blended with others, improve complexity of the wine.
The wine I selected for tonight is a cheat. I picked a Rhône style blend from Tablas Creek in Paso Robles. I chose a 2016 Esprit Blanc de Tablas to pair with a carrot potato leek soup, a wonderful fall duo. The wine is a blend of 75% Roussanne, 18% Grenache Blanc, and 7% Picpoul Blanc. The Roussanne creates a rich, mineral-centric base, the Grenache Blanc is more green fruit focused, and the Picpoul is a bright, uplifting citrus. The wine was a bright, brassy hay with legs that were in no rush to get anywhere. It smelled of toasted coconut, lemons, wet rocks, nutmeg, beeswax, and asian pear. The baking spice notes are comforting with the potatoes and carrots in the soup. The richness of the wine and the light cream and butteriness of the soup compliment each other wonderfully. The floral notes of honeysuckle were accentuated by the fresh thyme and bay leaf. The sweetness of the cooked potatoes and carrots with the butterscotch in the wine was as comforting as my favorite sweater. If this pairing doesn’t have you ready for soup season and sweater weather, then I don’t know what will!