The Rhône Valley is one of the greatest wine regions of the world, producing wines for over 2000 years. Some of the world’s most famous wines come from this part of France. Join me in discovering the two distinct regions for Rhône wines, the north as well as the south.
The Rhône Valley stretches from the city of Lyon in the north all the way into the Mediterranean to its south. The Rhône Valley is a tale of two unique regions, Northern Rhône and Southern Rhône. Syrah is the predominant red grape of the north, along with prestigious whites varieties like Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. Southern Rhône is most famous for Châteauneuf-du-Pape where Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre dominate, along with 22 other grape varieties. There are a lot of stylistic variations in the south.
The steep hillside vineyards of Northern Rhône run from Lyon to Valence. Syrah is King in the north. Most of the red wines are primarily single varietal Syrahs, some blend a touch of Viognier to add perfume and structure to the wines. Syrah is to Northern Rhône to what Pinot Noir is to Burgundy. The whites of the Northern Rhône are primarily blends of Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. There is a continental climate in Northern Rhône and is considerably cooler and wetter than its southern counterpart.
Though Syrah is the main grape varietal of the north, the style of wines differs greatly based on the cru villages, terroir and the traditions of the winemaker. The soils are primarily granitic and schist soils. The north produces only 10% of the wines of the entire region, but are typical of higher quality and higher in price as many are small production and are extremely sought after. Most of the vines are hand-harvested due to the steepness of the slopes.
The red wines of Northern Rhône are typically bold structured, powerful, intense and tannic. The wines have notes of spice, violets, blackberries, bacon fat, truffles, and distinct white pepper. The Northern Rhône comprises 8 main crus that are unique and distinct in styles: Côte-Rôtie AOC, Condrieu AOC, Château-Grillet AOC, Saint-Joseph AOC, Hermitage AOC, Crozes-Hermitage AOC, Cornas AOC, and Saint Péray AOC.
Past the city of Valence, you begin to approach Southern Rhône. The South is considerably different from the north. While the wines of the north are rare and highly sought after, they only make up 5% of the total Rhône production. The other 95% comes from the South. The South produces mostly reds that are predominantly blends. How Syrah is to the North, Grenache is the signature grape of the south. Grenache is often blended with Syrah and Mourvedre for added structure.
The climate of the Southern Rhône region is Mediterranean. There is a strong mistral wind(50 mph) that comes through the valley, thus the vines are low and bush trained. The soils are alluvial and covered with galets that allow for heat retention during the day which is dispersed during the cool nights. The wines of Southern Rhône offer great value. They are concentrated, structured and express wonderful rich fruit characteristics. The 9 cru villages are distinctive and have their own charm and personality: Vacqueyras AOC, Cairanne AOC, Gigondas AOC, Chateauneuf du Pape AOC, Vinsobres AOC, Beaumes de Venise AOC, Rasteau AOC, Tavel AOC and Lirac AOC.
So many villages, so many grape varieties and so many wonderful wines. The Rhône Valley is full of diversity, history, and wonderful stories. Once you have had Rhône wines you will come back over, and over, and over again. The wines are distinct with a sense of place and terroir. Discover the wines for yourself.
Six Rhone Wines To Try Now
E. Guigal Brune et Blonde Côte-Rôtie Rouge 2016
This remarkable Côte-Rôtie is well-balanced and precise. E. Guigal offers classic Côtie Rôtie aromatics of cherry, herbs and smoked bacon, with a rich and complex palate of raspberries and olives and a hint of smoke.
Blend – 96 % Syrah, 4% Viognier
Les Vignerons de Tavel & Lirac Les Lauzeraies Tavel Rosé 2019
Deep pink-salmon color, this wine offers mineral and dark berry aromas. Flinty, delicate and very fruity on the palate. Its acidity balances its richness and strength.
Blend – 50% Grenache, 20% Cinsault, 17% Mourvèdre, Carignan andSyrah, 7% Picpoul and Bourboulenc, 6% Clairette
Arnoux & Fils Vieux Clocher Vacqueyras 2017
The wine has a deep purple color with mauve highlights and powerful fruity fragrances sprinkled with spice. All the intensity of the nose may be found in the mouth, on a background structured by healthy tannins full of masculinity and packed in a full body. The finish is long and opens some late pepper touches that define its specificity.
Blend – 70% Grenache 5% Mourvedre 25% Syrah
Andre Brunel Cuvée Sabrine Côtes du Rhône Villages Rouge 2016
A great taste of red fruits. The tannins are harmonious and elegant. Nice finish in the mouth allowing for even more complex aromas. The wine allies strength and elegance but is still easy to drink for an everyday meal.
Blend – 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre
Château de Saint Cosme Côtes du Rhône Rouge 2018
Château de Saint Cosme is the oldest estate in Gigondas, dating back to the 15th century. This plum-colored wine offers aromas of raspberry, blueberries, sandalwood, violets and black pepper. On the palate, a deep tannic structure is met by subtle acidity.
M. Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2018
Bright golden hue. The aroma is intense and expressive on the nose, with notes of apricot, fennel and floral scents. This white wine is complex and very elegant. The roundness is a perfect match for its freshness and the finish reveals subtle notes of aniseed.
Blend: 40% Roussanne, 25% Viognier, 20% Grenache Blanc, 15% Clairette & Bourboulenc,