#TryThis Clairette Blanche, A Nice Surprise From Southern France
Clairette isn’t a very well known grape, although many of us have had it in white blends from France, or perhaps reds or rosés, since it is allowed in several appellations, including the very famous reds and somewhat less famous whites of Châteauneuf-du-Pape (which can use 14 grapes – 18 if you count the red, white, rose and/or gris versions of certain varieties) and Tavel (the top rosé-only appellation in the world, mostly made from Grenache, but allowing 10 grapes, including Clairette rose and Clairette blanche).
On a recent trip to the region, including Luberon, Ventoux, Costières-de-Nîmes, Cairanne, Lirac and Tavel, we tried several whites made mainly from Clairette, and several 100% Clairette, and the results were surprising. Surprising because the wines were fresh and crisp, as well as complex and diverse, with floral and fruity notes, balanced acidity, good body, and, and, in some cases, age-ability. This flies contrary to the reputation of the grape, which is that it makes flabby, low acid wines, prone to early oxidation.
One has to be careful about stereotypes, because the Clairettes we sampled were far from flabby.
Here are some of the good examples tasted:
Domaine Alary, Cairanne, L’Exclus Blanc
– 100% Clairette, barrel fermented and aged, complex and spicy, but still fresh.
Domaine Rabasses Charavin, Côtes du Rhone Blanc, “Laure”
-Clairette 60%, very fresh, crisp white wine to be drunk young.
Domaine Brusset, Cairanne , Les Travers Blanc
– a rich and full blend that is mostly Clairette, still fresh although partly fermented in new oak, with 100% malolactic fermentation.
Mas Carlot, La Terre Natale, Appellation Clairette de Bellegarde, neighbouring the Costières-de-Nîmes.
– this small, special appellation is for 100% Clairette wines. There are only a handful of producers. This 2016 vintage is floral and fresh with nice weight, and a tropical fruit note, but dry.
Pierre Amadieu, Côtes du Rhône Blanc Clairette
– 100% old vines Clairette, barrel fermented and aged, complex, weighty and fresh.
Montfaucon, Vin de Madame La Comtesse, Lirac
– from a small vineyard planted with Clairette since 1870. We tried the 2016, 2015 and 2011. All were great, but the fresh, mineral/salty character of the 2015 and 2016 was very attractive, combined with floral and fruity notes. Not high acidity, but minerality. These were some of the best whites tasted in a long while…