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2013 Vacqueyras Blanc, Un Sang Blanc, Le Sang des Cailloux
The charismatic Serge Férigoule has, over the last two decades, done more than most to raise the profile of Vacqueyras. Located on gently ascending limestone vineyards between Vacqueyras itself and Sarrians, this evocatively named property appears, probably a little later than it ought, for the first time on our list.
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.
Vacqueyras was the second Côtes du Rhônes Villages to be upgraded to AOC status, after Gigondas, in 1990 and rightly so. These excellent-value wines are like turbo-charged Côtes du Rhônes: dark and rich with the classic herbs and warm peppery spice of the Southern Rhône.
Compared to neighbouring Gigondas, they are slightly more restrained and rustic – in the best sense of the word – and slightly cheaper. They are made from a little less Grenache (50 percent minimum) with the balance made up with Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault.
You should give Vacqueyras two to three years to come round, but they can then last up to a decade. The 770 hectares of vineyards are spread across the communes of Vacqueyras and Sarrians in the foothills of the Dentelles de Montmirail and produce almost exclusively red wines. The small amount of fresh, fruity rosé is normally well worth the search, while the tiny amount of white wine is mostly not.
Recommended producers: La Bastide de St. Vincent, Montirius
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