Wine Ambassador, Dave Lofstrom, is thinking about Qupé’s newest white Rhône and how it compares to a French counterpart.
White Rhônes can be a tough sell. First of all, they are almost always blends as opposed to a single varietal bottling. Additionally, white Rhône wines are typically composed of grapes that many American wine drinkers are not familiar with: Roussanne, Marsanne, Clairette, Bourboulenc, and more. Consumers might be familiar with Viognier, a common component in several white wines from the Rhône, but it’s unlikely that most wine buyers have as much experience with it in comparison to Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.
I didn’t start drinking white wines from the Rhône until relatively recently. I will admit that for the first part of my wine drinking life I was intimidated. Then when I finally started to explore the Rhône more fully, I found plenty of examples of red Rhône wines and not very many white wines. I now find myself seeking out Rhône whites just out of curiosity. I live in Santa Barbara County where there is a great focus on local wine. Unfortunately, this makes finding a variety of French examples difficult. On the other hand, there are plenty of producers here in Santa Barbara County working with white Rhône varietals. Thus, finding domestic examples of white Rhône blends has been easy.
Bob has been working with white Rhône varietals since the mid-1980s and was the first producer in California to work with Marsanne in 1987. He recently released a new wine that is a blend of Marsanne (80%) and Viognier (20%) utilizing all Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard fruit. In the past Qupé Marsanne typically has Roussanne blended into the wine – how very Northern Rhône! – which Bob still does in theSanta Barbara County Marsanne. The blend of Marsanne and Viognier struck me as more Côtes du Rhône inspired, as opposed to Hermitage or Crozes-Hermitage. This inspired me to grab a bottle of white Côtes du Rhône and taste it next to the new 2012 Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard Marsanne. The 2011 E. Guigal Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc is a classic example of white Côtes-du-Rhône (CDR) and makes for a great comparison.
I chose this well-known producer for two reasons. First, to be perfectly honest, it was easy to find! Second, I felt that it would be simple, straightforward representations of the region. E. Guigal Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc is composed of primarily Viognier (55%), a healthy dose of Roussanne (20%) with Clairette, Marsanne, and Bourboulenc making up the rest. This CDR is aged in stainless steel tanks. On the nose and palate this wine is fresh and fairly aromatic with distinct aromas of honeysuckle, apricot, white flowers and some tropical fruit. It has a fairly round and rich body (likely the Viognier at work). The CDR has a nice touch of acidity.
The 2012 Qupé Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard Marsanneis comprised of 80% Marsanne and 20% Viognier and aged in neutral oak. It is not nearly as floral or lively on the nose, but a completely different experience on the palate. Lemon, orange blossom, honeysuckle and a touch of nuttiness all dance around your mouth. The SLV Marsanne is much brighter and lively on the palate. Both wines are lovely, but very different structurally; it’s cool to see how much the Viognier makes for two different experiences. The high percentage of Viognier in the E. Guigal CDR creates a broader, wider feeling on your palate and makes the wine much more floral. The Qupé SLV Marsanne on the other hand has a high percentage of Marsanne, making the wine much brighter and more focused on your palate. It’s a really fun side by side tasting, I highly recommend it!
I realize that these two wines are very different. Vintage, terroir, and blend are all different. However, I still think it’s a comparison worth making. The Sawyer Lindquist Marsanne is, in my opinion, inspired by the Old World. I can tell that it’s not from the Rhône, but it is certainly a nice homage to it. I’ll be drinking plenty of this wine in the future.