The Rhône valley is situated in south-eastern France, just south of Burgundy. It runs from Avignon in the south and finishes at Lyon in the north. The conditions are hot and very sunny, with the soil full of rocks that retain the intense summer heat during both day and night. Châteauneuf-du-Pape, for instance, experiences an average of 2,750 hours of sunshine a year, compared to Bordeaux with 2,050 and Burgundy with 2,000.
The Rhône is divided into two sections: the Northern Rhône and Southern Rhône. Boasting some of the oldest vineyards in France, 91% of wine produced in the Rhône Valley is red, with a miniscule 6 % rosé and 3% white wine making up the balance. There are four different quality levels in the region, with 58% of the volume produced the generic Côtes du Rhône.
The grape varieties there are mainly Grenache and Syrah, but Cinsault and Mourvèdre are also important. In the Northern Rhône, Syrah is very important, and in some areas it is the only variety permitted. The white varieties are mainly Viognier, Marsanne or Roussane. Châteauneuf-du-Pape, in the south, has 13 permitted varieties, although most producers do not utilise all of them. One exception is Château Mont-Redon, who have all 13 planted.
The appellations in the Northern Rhône are:
• Condrieu – producing white wines from Viognier. Look out for the Yves Cuilleron Condrieu
• Cornas – producing red wines from Syrah, and home to the top producer, Pierre Gaillard
• Côte-Rôtie – producing red wines from Syrah. One of the best there is Rene Rostaing
• Crozes-Hermitage – producing red wines from Syrah. Les Vins de Vienne produce excellent Crozes
• Hermitage – producing red wines from Syrah and some whites, Hermitage is home to Jaboulet
• Saint-Joseph – producing red and white wines. Les Vins de Vienne also produce excellent Saint-Joseph
• Saint-Péray – producing red and white wines. Master winemaker Yves Cuilleron produces excellent Saint-Péray
The appellations in the Southern Rhône are;
• Châteauneuf du Pape – producing red and white. Look out for the Mont-Redon and Bosquet des Papes
• Gigonas – producing red. Les Vins de Vienne also produce a wonderful Gigonas
• Lirac – one of the main areas for rosé in the Rhône. Mont-Redon produce a delightfully fragrant Lirac rosé
• Tavel – the other main area for rosé
• Vacqueyras – producing red wine. Domaine le Colombier product fruity, fragrant Vacqueyras
• Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise – producing fortified sweet wines made from Muscat – the Jaboulet Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise in a 375ml bottle is excellent
• Vinsobres – the newest addition to the appellations in the Rhône, producing red wine. The Domaine Jaume Vinsobres is excellent value for money.
While the Rhône may not have the superstar status of Bordeaux or the mystique of Burgundy, what you do find when you visit and meet the people is a friendly approach and an air of generosity. There’s a lot to be said for wines telling the story of a region and its people. Rhône wines are generally very approachable, particularly when young. Côtes du Rhône is one of the wine world’s best-kept secrets, and highly relevant right now with a series of gorgeous vintages coming through.