Rhone Valley, France
The Rhone River begins in the Alps and meanders for over 700 km to the Mediterranean Sea. Vineyards sit along both sides of the river between the cities of Vienne & Avignon. Over 90% of Rhone Valley wines are red wines, and as a region produces over 33 million cases of wine annually, including the famed Chateuneuf-du-Pape blend.
General Terroir & History
There is no place like Rhone. And old world region, winemaking started here in the 4th century BC, brought over by the Greeks, but established by the Romans who used Rhone as their highway through France. The main influence that put Rhone on the map was however the Pope, when the Catholic Church moved it's headquarters to Avignon in the early 1300s. Chateauneuf-du-Pape actually translates into "Pope's New Crib", and is one of the most prominent appellations of Rhone.
The Rhone River begins in the Alps and meanders for over 700 km to the Mediterranean Sea. Vineyards sit along both sides of the river between the cities of Vienne & Avignon. Due to geological differences, the easiest ways to categorise is by Northern & Southern Rhone; the different climates lead the 2 regions to produce different wine styles.
Classification is determined based on regional importance, and is split into 4 different levelsCôtes du Rhône AOC is the entry level classification, with most red blends being Grenache or Syrah based
Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC are slightly more complex with lower yields, great for aging
Côtes du Rhône (Named) Villages AOC would be limited to 21 villages that have the highest classification for the region
Crus are the epitome of Rhone wine representation - these 18 crus express individual "terroir" and produce about 20% of the regions' wine production
- Beaumes des Venise AOP
- Cairanne AOP
- Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOP
- Gigondas AOP
- Lirac AOP
- Tavel AOP
- Rasteau AOP
- Vacqueyras AOP
- Vinsorbes AOP
- Cornas AOP
- Condrieu AOP
- Château-Grillet AOP
- Côte-Rôtie AOP
- Crozes-Hermitage AOP
- Hermitage AOP
- Saint-Joseph AOP
- Saint Péray AOP
- Diois AOP
Major Wine Varietals & Styles
Over 90% of Rhone Valley wines are red wines, and as a region produces over 33 million cases of wine annually.
Crement de Die
Mostly produced in a small isolated region called the Diois. It has the highest elevant in all of French vineyards. Expect zesty sparkling wines made in the traditional Champagne method.
Full Bodied White Wine
Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, Clairette
Viognier is at home in the appellations of Condrieu & Château Grillet. Expect powerful aromas of apricot, floral notes & a big bold honeyed mouthfeel.
Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blancs, Hermitage Blancs & other appellations like St Joseph & Saint-Peray create beautiful white varietal blends which are fresh with subtle fruit & floral notes.
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre
Mostly made out of the same grapes to make red wine, the rose from Rhone Valley tend to be deeper & fruitier than the classic Provence style. Expect lots of red fruit & stone fruit notes, and look to Southern Rhone for quality rose. Tavel as the regional "King of Roses", and you could look to Lirac, Côte de Ventoux or Côte de Vivarais.
Full Bodied Red Wine
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, GSM Blends
There's really 2 main styles to have a look at when talking about red wine from Rhone; Northern Rhone Syrah & Sothern Rhone Chateauneuf-du-Pape Grenache dominant blends
While each large region has smaller appelations that does variations of these 2 blends, with slightly different profiles, these are the main 2 that people are familiar with.
The Northern Rhone is dominated by single varietal Syrah wines. Expect notes of raspberry, violet, truffles & chocolate, with differences between appellations.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a French wine appellation known for its bold Grenache-based red blends, and is almost like a gateway drug into French wine. It bursts with rich red fruit & plum notes, as well as notes of dusted leather, game & herbs. It often finishes with a strawberry note, and the balance of notes between sweet & savory depends on vintage. While there are many small regional variations within Southern Rhone, CdP is the flagship of the region. Made mainly with Grenache, Syrah & Mourvedre, there also includes some light red grapes grown in Southern Rhone Valley, such as Cinsault, Counoise, Carignan. Usually not produced as single varietal wines, but are blended in to create the Chateauneuf-du-Pape blend.
Dessert & Fortified Wine
Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, Vin Doux
Rhone Valley has a few appellations that are famous for producing sweet fortified wine.
Muscat de Beaumes de Venise is from Beaumes de Venise, which is an ancient region settled by the Greeks. It's made from one of the oldest grape varieties in the world, Muscat Blanc á Petits Grains, and has a red & white style. Expect alcohol levels of at least 15%.
Vin Doux is a regional fortified wine produced in Rasteau, which makes Grenache based fortified wine.
Syrah is the big boy of the North. It's the birthplace of Syrah, where many wine lovers find it gives the best expression of the full bodied, savory & elegant grape. And the reason for this also lies in the terroir - hot summers & cold winters with hillsides so steep that vineyards are terraced to keep soil from eroding & retain the warmth from the sun.
Look out for Côte Rôtie or Hermitage for Syrah, Condrieu and Château Grillet for lush Viognier & Saint-Péray for Marsanne & Roussanne.
- Condrieu is actually the home of Viognier
- Côte Rôtie is known as "Roasted Slope" & has some of the most sun soaked & steepest slopes in all of France
- Diois is one of the only appellations to produce sparkling wine in Rhone
- White wines from Hermitage were once the favorites of Russian nobility
Grenache is the King in the South Cote du Rhone AOC, and forms the foundation of the South's popular blends. You’ll also encounter Mourvedre, Cinsault, Counoise, Carignan, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Clairette, Bourboulenc and a bunch of regional grapes. The climate here is more Mediterranean; summers are long & warm, while winters are mild. Garrigue, a wild herb that grows in the area, gives the wine some herbal & dusted leather notes.
Côtes du Rhône is the largest sub-region, and while full bodied reds dominate, lush whites & roses are well worth seeking out as well.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the most famous, and was the first to be recognised. Grapes are planted across various varietals & altitudes, with Grenache Mourvedre & Syrah (GMS) based blends producting wines that are full and aromatic with spicy dark fruits balanced with acidity and minerality. Look to the La Crau Plateau for exceptional CdP wines, where a mixed soil of rounded stones over sandy, iron-rich red clay, sand dominant soils & chalky limestone rich clays create robust wines with higher tannin.
Gigondas has a beautiful hot climate, building full, earthy & aromatic wines
Beaumes de Venise is home to the famous sweet wine “Muscat de Beaumes de Venise”. It's one of the ancient regions, settled by the Greeks