Can white wines from the Rhône age well?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Do white Rhône varietals (excluding Viognier) age nicely? Clairette or Ugni Blanc, for example?

—Ralph, Boston

Dear Ralph,

Viognier is undoubtedly the best-known white grape in France's Rhône Valley; other permitted white grapes include Marsanne, Roussanne, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Picpoul, Picardan, Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc, Maccabeo, Vermentino (known as Rolle) and white Muscat.

I asked senior editor James Molesworth, Wine Spectator's lead taster for the wines of France's Rhône Valley, for his thoughts:

"In Châteauneuf-du-Pape, white varieties are allowed in the red blend—many producers add some Bourboulenc or Clairette to their blends to help bolster acidity and freshness. On their own, these grapes can age nicely, particularly Clairette, though there are very few bottlings of these grapes on their own. I feel that white Châteauneuf blends and other whites from the Southern Rhône are best in their first three to five years of age, with some exceptions, of course.

"In the Northern Rhône, Marsanne and Roussanne can age very well—white Hermitage, for example, can develop in the cellar for over two decades.”

Molesworth also says Viognier deserves attention (and I wholeheartedly agree): “Many producers of Condrieu have eased off on new oak and bâtonnage in recent years, resulting in a fresher style. While I prefer Condrieu in its first few years as well, it can age, and many producers like their wines with eight to 10 or more years of age on them, as they develop white truffle and other interesting secondary aromas and flavors.”

For the latest report on the Rhône, website members can check out Molesworth’s latest Rhône Valley Tasting Report for more on the wines of this exciting French region.

—Dr. Vinny

Ask Dr. Vinny White Wines Viognier Rhône Valley

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