Discover France's Famous Rhone Wine Region
The Rhône Valley is one of the most historic and bountiful wine regions in France. It runs along the Rhône River from Beaujolais all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, where it intersects with the regions of Provence to the southeast and Languedoc to the southwest.
Over 100 million gallons of wine are produced in the region annually, from easy-drinking value wines from Côtes-du-Rhône to the complex luxury wines of appellations like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côte-Rôtie, and Hermitage.
Not only is the wine great, it is a fantastic area to visit between the stunning views along the river, stately castles nestled in the rolling hills, and fields of olive trees and lavender. Lyon is the culinary heart of France. There are more Michelin-starred restaurants in this French city than in any other outside of Paris!
Rhone Climate and Soils
The Southern Rhône is Mediterranean, while the Northern Rhône has a continental climate and harsher climactic conditions. The cold Mistral wind affects the Northern Rhône in winter and spring. The farmers of the Rhône Valley have planted rows of cypress trees to shelter their crops from the force of the mistral. The wind can be strong enough to strip the vines but it dries the vineyards, preventing diseases such as mildew from taking hold, plus the moving air can save crops from the spring frost, which can last until the end of April.
The soils differ throughout the Valley. The topsoil throughout the Northern Rhône is prone to erosion, which is reduced by the construction of terraces. Granite and schist soils are found in the
north and terraces are made from these rocks. In the south, Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe is covered with galets, large pebbles that help keep the soil drained and warm at night.
Grapes and Wine Styles Produced in Rhone
It is separated into the Northern Rhône and Southern Rhône, each making different styles of wine. The main grapes used in the region are Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Cinsault, and Grenache for reds and Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Muscat, Marsanne and Roussane for whites. The Northern Rhône produces Syrah-based reds and the whites are either 100 percent Viognier (in Condrieu) or a blend of Marsanne and Roussanne. The Southern Rhône makes reds that are usually Grenache-based and the whites are typically blended and contain Grenache Blanc or Roussanne.
Offering so much to so many, the Rhône makes a variety of styles. Still whites and reds are dry but there are dessert wines made in the Rhône. Beaumes de Venise is an appellation of wines from Southern Rhône that produces a sweet fortified wine. The wine style is called Vin Doux Naturel (VDN), under the designation Muscat de Beaumes de Venise.
Although not far from Provence, Rhône’s rosés could not be further in style. Tavel is the only appellation in the region that only makes rosé wines. Usually made with Grenache, these rosés are bold and savory—even the color is deep and dark. If you are looking for a lighter style rosé from the region, head to Costières de Nîmes.
Fun Facts About The Rhone Valley:
When the papacy (under Pope John XXII) moved to Avignon in the fourteenth century, the residence became known as the “Châteauneuf-du-Pape” (literally, the “new home of the Pope”). Because he loved wine, he had papal vineyards built and was active in the advocacy of Rhône wines.
Every 13 seconds, a bottle of Rhône Valley AOC wine is enjoyed somewhere in the world.
The famous GSM blends that are popular in Australia (and worldwide) are based on Rhône-style blends.
Key Producers To Visit
- Gilles Barge
- Bernard Faurie
- Jean Louis Chave
- Yann Chave
- Jean-Luc Colombo
- Clos des Papes
- Clos L’Oratoire des Papes
- Yves Cuilleron
- Delas Freres
- Gabriel Meffre
- Pierre Gaillard
- Yves Gangloff
- Jean Michel Gerin
- Gentaz Dervieux
- Jaboulet La Chapelle
- La Nerthe
- Bernard Levet
- Louis Bernard
- Mont Redon
- Domaine du Pégau
- Nicolas Perrin
- Stephane Ogier
- Rene Rostaing
- Saint Cosme
- Marc Sorrel
- Tardieu Laurent
- Georges Vernay
- Vidal Fleury
- Francois Villard
Written By Carrie Dykes
Carrie Dykes is wine writer and reviewer living in the Hudson Valley region of New York. Her by-line can be also be found in Hudson Valley Wine Magazine, InCider Japan, The Cork Report and Wine Enthusiast Magazine. She is an international wine judge for the IWSC, where she uses the skills she has learned in her WSET Diploma training.
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