The Rhône wine region in Southern France is situated in the Rhône river valley and produces numerous wines. The region’s major appellation in production volume is Côtes du Rhône.
The Rhône Valley covers the valley south of Lyon down to Avignon. Much of the wine grown in Côtes du Rhône is sold under the “Côtes du Rhône” appellation which is generic or “Côtes du Rhône Villages.” Grapes grown here include Vigonier, Syrah, Grenache, Marsanne, Roussane, Bourboulenc and Carignan. It is the famous Châteauneuf du Pape where 13 grape varieties are permitted in the blend.
The various AOC wines of the Rhône Valley region are produced by over 6,000 wine growing properties including 1,837 private wineries and 103 cooperatives. Those vineyard owners which do not vinify their wines themselves deliver their grapes in bulk either to a winemaking cooperative, of which there are 103 in the region, or sell them to one of the 51 négociants (wine producers and merchants) who blend, distribute, and export on an industrial scale.
The northern Rhône is characterised by a continental climate with harsh winters but warm summers. Its climate is influenced by the mistral wind, which brings colder air from the Massif Central. Northern Rhône is therefore cooler than southern Rhône, which means that the mix of planted grape varieties and wine styles are slightly different.
Syrah is the only red grape variety permitted in red wines from this sub-region. The grape, which is believed to have originated in or close to the Rhône region, is also widely known as Shiraz, its name in Australia and much of the English-speaking world, and has recently become very popular with consumers around the world. For wines bearing the Cornas designation, Syrah must be used exclusively, whereas other reds from the northern Rhône sub-region may be blended with white wine grapes, either Viognier or Marsanne and Roussanne, depending on the appellation.
Viognier by itself is used for white wines from Condrieu and Château-Grillet. Marsanne and Roussanne are in turn used for the whites from Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, Saint Joseph, and Saint Péray.
Northern Rhône reds are often identified by their signature aromas of green olive and smoky bacon.
The southern Rhône sub-region has a more Mediterranean climate with milder winters and hot summers. Drought can be a problem in the area, but limited irrigation is permitted. The differing terroirs, together with the rugged landscape which partly protects the valleys from the Mistral, produce microclimates which give rise to a wide diversity of wines. A feature of the cultivation of the region is the use of large pebbles around the bases of the vines to absorb the heat of the sun during the day to keep the vines warm at night when, due to the cloudless skies, there is often a significant drop in temperature.
The southern Rhône’s most famous red wine is Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a blend containing up to 19 varieties of wine grapes (ten red and nine white). Other nearby regions including Coteaux du Tricastin, Côtes du Ventoux, Côtes du Vivarais, Lirac, Tavel and Vacqueyras may contain even more varieties in the blend. Gigondas, on the other hand, is predominantly made from Grenache noir has a more restricted set of permitted grapes. Depending on the specific rules, grapes blended into southern Rhône reds may include Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsault. The reds from the left bank are full bodied, rich in tannins while young, and are characterized by their aromas of prune, undergrowth, chocolate and ripe black fruit. The right bank reds are slightly lighter and fruitier.
White wines from the southern Rhône sub-region, such as in Châteauneuf-du-Pape whites, are also typically blends of several wine grapes. These may include Ugni blanc, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, Picpoul, and Clairette. Since about 1998 Viognier is increasingly being used and is also appearing as a single varietal.
Tavel AOC, produced in the special microclimate of the sillon rhodanien (the furrow of the Rhône) by some thirty producers including Château d’Aqueria, Domaine Maby, Domaine de la Mordorée, Domaine Pelaquier, is an elite rosé only, which has been referred to as ‘the wine of kings”.