Grenache Blanc & Picpoul: Less Known White Rhone Varietals Surge in U.S. Popularity

The Rhone Report: About Rhone and Rhone-Style Wines and Winemakers is part of an ongoing series.

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Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier are the best known of the white Rhone varietals.  But there are two less recognized grapes that really add a “je ne sais quoi” to the overall quality of a white Rhone blend and each produces a zippy single-varietal wine as well.  These are Grenache Blanc and Picpoul.  Both are newcomers to the United States and are slowly starting to gain popularity.

Not All Grenache Is Red

Our first experience with Grenache Blanc as a single varietal was late in the French heat-wave summer of 2003.  Growers across the Rhone Valley were in a panic about the heat and frantically trying to assemble picking crews in late August (a tough assignment in a country where everyone goes on vacation that month!) to get the harvest in before it was too late. 

Our friend Dominique Rocher of Domaine Rocher in Cairanne in the southern Rhone was no exception.  He had a crew of student volunteers who literally camped in his back yard.  Dominique invited us to dinner at the Domaine one evening.  When we arrived, Dominique pulled the cork on a bottle of his Grenache Blanc from the previous vintage.  The day had been quite hot, but just as he opened the wine and the sun began setting, a cool breeze kicked up and suddenly, the heat wave was finally over.  Dominique was chagrined that he had jumped the gun and picked his white varietals that very day instead of waiting.

The wine was he served us was lovely, with good acidity and had refreshing notes of citrus and herbs.  It was delicious, with a few olives to nosh along with it.  Because of this marvelous wine and this gorgeous evening, we always recall quite fondly wines made with Grenache Blanc. 

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.