Ben Bernheim
Jul 2021

A short guide to southern French white grape varieties

Southern Rhone white varieties: the whites of Provence, Languedoc, the Rhone

Rhone varieties


Despite lending its name to Clairette de Die, AOC rules limit it there to 25% of the blend, and it’s relatively rare elsewhere as well, with only a few hundred hectares. It is relatively common in Bandol, or at least as much as a white variety can be, but is otherwise mostly found in its native Languedoc and southern Cotes du Rhone.

Acquiese Clairette Blanche 2019

White waxy flowers, broad, fat with good acidity, lovely lime acidity, fennel-seed. 100% Clairette.

Domaine de la Bégude St Louis 2020

Young vines north of la Brulade, lots of wild camomile in the vineyard. 3 months on the lees. White waxy flowers, honey, garrigue, white orchard fruit. Perfumed, quite fat but then long citrus mineral acidity and quite grippy on the finish. Fruit forward. 80-95% Clairette depending on the vintage.

Julien Castell Blanc de blanc 2019 For My Dad

Fermented and aged in old foudre. Harvested mid September. Honey, butterscotch and pineapple. Tannin on finish. Peach! Nutty tannins. Leafier and fresher when served in a bigger glass. Beautiful acidity despite MLF, textural. 90% Clairette, the rest Ugni Blanc and Rolle.


A Rhone variety par-excellence, probably from the Drome, between the southern and northern Rhone viticultural areas. Rarely seen as a single-varietal, usually blended with Roussanne.



A Rhone variety par-excellence, probably from the Drome, between the southern and northern Rhone viticultural areas. Rarely seen as a single-varietal, usually blended with Marsanne


A few years ago, Viognier was on the verge of extinction, a northern-Rhone oddity limited to Condrieu and Chateau Grillet. Today it’s hard to avoid, but quality has gone through the roof in just the past three or four years.

Domaine Gayda Viognier 2020

Quite fat mineral floral nose. Hints of ginger and confected sugar. On the palate amazingly floral - honeysuckle, white waxy flowers, perfumed fresh lemons, ginger. Incredibly floral. Fresh citrus acidity. Still quite fat in an oily Viognier way but beautiful vibrant length. Strong perfumed notes on the nose, gently floral, slight hint of rosewater, and then a slightly nutty, spicy toasty kick towards the finish. Lovely crisp acidity on the palate, and the toastiness from the nose translates to quite a decadent nuttiness on the palate. Alcohol a little high towards the finish, but otherwise have no complaints about what is a simply beautiful Viognier, fresh and typical and quality that punches far above its price point. 93

Domaine Pichat Collines Rhodaniennes Viognier 2019

Some floral, honey, ripe bruised apples. Very very pleasant - shockingly woody, oaked, round. Classic oily body but really muted by the ripe fruit but mostly by the broad, strong structure offered by the oak. Really unusual, but outstanding - oaked viognier is a must and this is a Condrieu without the price tag. A good standard-bearer for an uncommon IGP.


Relatively unheard of in the Cotes de Provence area, but fairly common in the Luberon, southern Rhone and Languedoc, and allowed as a majority in blends in La Clape.

Chateau Hospitalet Grand Vin 2019

Cavalliere, Bourboulenc 2019

Vin de France. Parcel in a small valley, right next to newly-planted Merlot. On clay, cool, was planted with asparagus. Also planted with Counoise which, when harvested the outer berries are ripe, but inside the bunch are green. Early harvested mid to late September - normally early October. Water white. Saline, perfumed. Sour lemon, bitter lemon, slight spritz. Made for summer. Very fresh white minerality, white pears, cooking apples, crab apples. Marguerita style. Made to be a seasonal wine, if no MLF, acidity too high with the same pH as in the Loire Valley. Vineyards at 320m. Not meant to age.

Spanish-Rhone varieties

Grenache Gris

Pretty much exclusively found in Languedoc. Also makes a "Gris de Gris" pale rosé in the western Camargue.

Grenache Blanc

Slightly more commonly found, as it extends well into the southern Rhone


Macabeu or Viura is rarely seen far from the Spanish border, and is primarily found in Roussillon.


Muscat isn’t really local to anywhere - but there’s plenty of interesting wines made from it in the South, whether sweet Vins Doux Naturels or, increasingly, as floral dry whites.


Mauzac is not really found outside of Limoux, where it produces some really outstanding wines, often blended with Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc.

Foreign imports


This one isn’t strictly a southern variety, but is very widespread (by white standards) in Cotes de Provence, as one of the allowed AOP grapes.


Rolle or Vermentino is a Ligurian and Corsican grape that has been spilling into Provence from Bellet for thirty+ years now, and it’s starting to creep into Languedoc too.

Ugni Blanc

Often excluded from statistics due to its mass-volume planting and yields for cognac, it often feels like a blank-slate variety that allows for winemaking, terroir, and blending partners to shine.

"We’ve hit the southern limit of Ugni Blanc in La Londe, we’ve pulled all of ours up, the acidity just isn’t there" - Jean-Francois Ott

Rare autochtonous varieties

Carignan Blanc/Gris

A relatively uncommon one, and only ever really found in Roussillon.

Common blends

The Bandol blend is Clairette and Ugni Blanc.

The Provence blend is Ugni Blanc, Semillon, Rolle.

The southern Rhone blend is Clairette, Marsanne, Roussanne