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2012 Côtes du Rhône Blanc, Domaine de la Janasse
Domaine de la Janasse was established in 1973 by Aimé Sabon. Brother and sister team of Christophe and Isabelle Sabon continue to work wonders at Janasse, and farm 80 hectares of vineyards spread over a number of wine appellations: Châteauneuf du Pâpe, which is all located in the north-east of the appellation in the commune of Courthézon to be precise, Côtes du Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Village, but also Vin de Pays de la Principauté d'Orange and Vin de table.
Concrete tanks are used for the Grenache and oak for the Syrah and Mourvèdre; in other words, everything is fairly traditional; it is the quality of the raw materials which is so impressive and for that reason alone, leaving aside the clear skill and vision of the Sabons, that we are delighted to take on these excellent wines in our listings.
In the north, the white wines of Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, St-Joseph, and St-Péray are produced from blends of Marsanne and Roussanne. Generally Marsanne is the dominant partner and it lends colour, body and weight to the blend, as well as richly scented fruit. Roussanne, a notoriously low yielder and pernickety to grow, produces intensely aromatic wines which contribute bouquet, delicacy and finesse to the blend.
Until about 15 years ago there was very little interest in southern Rhône whites as it was widely believed that the combination of dull non aromatic grapes and the baking summer heat meant quality wine production was nigh impossible. Since then the quality has improved markedly through the introduction of cool fermentation techniques and increased plantings of northern Rhône white grapes.
The base of many blends is still Grenache Blanc, a widely planted variety producing fresh wines with apple-like fruits, often with hints of aniseed. Ugni Blanc is still found in many blends, as is Clairette though their general lack of character and definition has led to a reduction in plantings. The future for southern Rhône whites appears to lie with Roussanne, Marsanne, and, increasingly, Viognier.
Classified in 1937, Côtes du Rhône is an enormous appellation encompassing red, white and rosé wines covering an area of 40,300 ha and producing a crop that is 3 times larger than Beaujolais and almost as much as Bordeaux. Although this wine can come from across the Rhône region, more than 90% comes from the south. With the honourable exception of those produced by famous northern names like Jaboulet and Guigal, the finest examples are made in the south.
Red wine dominates, made with a minimum of 40% Grenache (except in the north where Syrah is allowed to be top dog) normally partnered by Syrah and/or Mourvèdre; another 18 varieties are also permitted. Typically light and fruity, the best examples can be rich, spicy and full-bodied. Almost all are best drunk young.
Quality varies from the very ordinary to the exceptional. Much is produced by cooperatives but the best come from the increasing number of individual estates and Châteauneuf-du-Pape producers like Beaucastel who produce premium entry wines here. White and rosé Côtes du Rhônes account for only 2% and 4% respectively, although both can be very good.