Let’s be honest: There’s a lot of mediocre Côtes du Rhône out there. The large, hot region is full of vineyards that easily produce lots of very ripe grapes, and for that reason, the wines tend to be more value-driven than quality-driven. That’s not to say that the Côtes du Rhône is merely a bulk-wine region, like central California, for instance; it just means that very often, the wines are fine but forgettable. The easily achieved quantity is the reason, in fact, that many top Northern Rhône producers either own vineyards or buy grapes in the Southern Rhône; the low-cost production is a moneymaker, allowing these wineries to invest more money in their higher-end wines.
There are some exceptions to the Côtes du Rhône rule, however, and the Vidal-Fleury Côtes du Rhône Blanc is one of them. Some might argue that the fact that it was the first wine I tasted after standing in the breathtaking vineyards of Côte-Rôtie with the Vidal-Fleury winemaker Guy himself colored my opinion, but I maintain that it did not. This blend of Viognier and Grenache Blanc does what many of the region’s white wines don’t: It maintains clean, bright fruit flavors despite being a fuller-bodied, lower-acid wine.
The nose is fresh and fragrant, with spring-like aromas of perfectly ripe red apple and pear, accented with just a hint of apple blossom to freshen things up. Though the palate is rounder and more viscous, the fruit remains clean throughout, never delving into that dirty, almost rotting quality that white wines can have when the grapes get too ripe. Savory herbs complement the ripe fruit on the palate as well, and a touch of bitterness on the finish substitutes for acidity to balance what might otherwise be a flabby wine.
Amazingly enough, the Vidal-Fleury remains a value, retailing for $17 or less in most shops. It’s perfect for those who like fresh, clean white wines like Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, or Pinot Grigio, but perhaps want a softer, less acid-driven option. Need proof that balance can be had without sacrificing value? This is it.