Last Updated on January 27, 2022
In Search of Summer – Why I’m Going White!
At this time of year, when the sky is a flat grey from sunrise to sunset, when the temperature scarcely lifts above freezing and when we are all aching for summer to come just a little faster, anything that brightens things up a bit is welcome. While I live on hearty soups and stews for most of the week, I also indulge in easy, summery dishes and look for the kind of wines to enjoy with them that I quaff liberally when I’m travelling through France. Of course, there are plenty of options but I’m particularly interested in Côtes du Rhône white wines here.
Côtes du Rhône is a vast region, the second-largest appellation in France, with only Bordeaux having more vines. It’s also a historic region, with vines grown here first by the ancient Romans. The biggest buyer of Côtes du Rhône is the UK, followed by France. And, for all those reasons and more, if there was ever a wine region that needed a good book like the one written by Matt Walls, the Rhône Valley would win first prize. Not only does it cover a vast area with consequential variation in terroir, but it is home to five designated AOCs and a series of IGP labels. For a ‘normal’ wine drinker, working your way through the AOC and IGP labels can be confusing at best. It’s worth the effort though – because it’s part of France where there are great value wines most of which don’t need ageing. That’s particularly true for the Rhône whites, simply because many consumers will pick a Côtes du Rhône red and ignore the whites (just 6% of the total production) and rose wines on offer. AOC whites from Côtes du Rhône are usually blended and must be made from a minimum 80% of the approved regional grape varieties. That’s Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, and Viognier. The remaining grapes which can be used are Ugni Blanc and Picpoul Blanc.
One of our favourites is the widely available Les Dauphins Côtes du Rhône Blanc which I’ve paired here with one of my favourite summer recipes – a pan-fried sea-bass fillet with tomatoes and olives. It’s 13% ABV and a blend of Viognier and Grenache Blanc. The wines of Cellier des Dauphin are made by the Union des Vignerons des Côtes du Rhône, a co-operative of ten winemakers across the south-eastern Rhône Valley to the foot of the Mont Ventoux, covering some 20 appellations. Always easy to drink, they are the perfect wines to keep on hand for when you want the taste of summer! Their white comes from the sunny vineyards surrounding Avignon, a region that is full of warmth, wild herbs and spices giving these wines their distinctive fresh structure and character.
The dish I made is simplicity itself – the kind of supper I’ll rustle up in summer when I don’t want to be in the kitchen for too long. A handful of new potatoes, smashed with a little olive oil and a panfried seabass fillet topped with cherry tomatoes and olives and a handful of fresh herbs. Making it in winter brings back memories of sunshine – and drinking a glass of Côtes du Rhône white wine is an excellent pairing. I’m sharing the recipe/method below simply to demonstrate how easy it is to cook from scratch.
An easy supper dish for one or two
- 16 pitted black olives
- 16 cherry tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 medium seabass fillets
- 5 grams butter
- fresh parsley, salt and pepper
Cut the cherry tomatoes and olives in half
Set the oven to 150C - this is just to keep the tomato mixture warm
Heat most of the oil over a low heat in a frying pan that is large enough for your seabass fillets
Pat the seabass fillets dry with kitchen paper, or a clean tea towel, score the skin of each fillet diagonally across in 3 or 4 places and season with salt
Add the olives and tomatoes to the frying pan and cook until the tomatoes are tender and starting to fall apart. Transfer the mixture into an ovenproof dish and keep warm
If necessary add the rest of the oil to the frying pan and turn the heat up to medium high
Add the seabass fillets skin side down and cook for 3-4 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. You should be able to see that the flesh is turning opaque at the sides where it is thinnest and the skin should be nice and crispy
Finish the dish by turning the fish to cook for just a minute skin side up, adding the butter to the pan
Serve the fillets with the tomato and olive mixture on top garnished with chopped fresh parsley
For more about the Rhone valley, check our feature