About the Rhône Valley
The Rhône Valley is one of the most historic and prolific wine regions in France. As a whole, it runs the course of the Rhône River from just south of the Beaujolais region in Burgundy all the way down to just north of the Mediterranean Sea, where it intersects with the regions of Provence to the southeast and Languedoc to the southwest.
Typically, the Rhône Valley is separated into two different large areas that each produce different styles of wine: Northern Rhône and Southern Rhône. The Northern Rhône makes red wines based on Syrah and the whites are either 100% Viognier (from Condrieu or Château Grillet) or can be a blend of Marsanne and/or Roussanne. The Southern Rhône makes wines that are typically more blended, but the base for the reds is usually Grenache. The base for the whites can be blended as well, but often is based on either Grenache Blanc or Roussanne.
The climates are quite different between the North and the South. The North is a drier continental climate that is a bit warmer than its neighbor Burgundy to its north. Here the steep hills on both sides of the south flowing Rhône River shelter the vineyards from the wind.
The Southern Rhône is hot, dry and very windy. The Mistral winds coming down from the Massif Centrale mountain range are incredibly stiff and hot winds that run free through the vineyards. In fact, in the Southern Rhône, vines are often planted facing into the wind when they are young so that the Mistral will eventually stand them upright as they grow over time.
Grape Varietals of the Rhône Region
Grenache: This is the workhorse grape of the Southern Rhône. It is the backbone of the majority of local red wines and its white clone Grenache Blanc is often an important part of local white wines. Grenache can show a range of flavors from dried cranberry, pomegranate, and raspberry to baked sour cherry, fig, and prune. Grenache is also the base for many of the rosé wines made all over southern France, including Tavel and Côtes de Provence.
Syrah: This savory grape is used for reds in the Northern Rhône. You will find aromas and flavors of dried blackberry, black currant, blueberry, and huckleberry with notes of cured meats, brined olives, dried herbs, and freshly cracked black peppercorns. The wines are decidedly savory and highly complex.
Viognier: This prototypical Rhône white grape is the sole ingredient of Condrieu and Château Grillet and it can be used as a supplementary grape in Côte-Rôtie. It shows deep baked stone fruit aromas of apricot and peach, as well as notes of marzipan, honey, and orange marmalade. It has a rich texture with a healthy dollop of alcohol and lower acidity than most grapes.
Marsanne: A medium bodied white grape that is very floral with yellow apple, white peach, and candle wax tones. It rarely stands on its own as it is typically blended with Roussanne.
Roussanne: A full-bodied grape that is the backbone of most of the best white wines from both the Northern and Southern Rhône. It shows ripe peach, apricot, roasted quince, and beeswax.
The river runs directly north to south here with the vineyards surrounding it on either side. Although this region is small, it is home to some of the most prestigious appellations in France, namely: Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage, and Cornas. These legendary appellations are all based upon Syrah as the grape variety and the best examples can age for decades.
The more open plain of the Southern Rhône exposes it to the Mistral wind. It is also extremely hot during the day. The heat of the sun bakes the sandy limestone soils, gets soaked up by the pebbles and the large softball sized stones of the famed appellation Châteauneuf du Pape. This heat then radiates out during the cool nights and keeps the ripening cycle going. The climate of the Southern Rhône lends itself well to the preferred environment of the Grenache grape. Grenache requires a warm climate to ripen fully and to showcase the baked fruit flavors of the Southern Rhône.
The most famous appellations are Côtes du Rhône (which also extends into the Northern Rhône), Côtes du Rhône Villages (made from the top individual sites in Côtes du Rhône), Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Tavel (for dry rosé only), and the legendary Châteauneuf du Pape.
Food & Wine Pairings
Syrah-based Northern Rhône Reds
- Steak au Poivre
- Grilled Game Meats (Boar, Venison, etc)
- Coq au Vin
Grenache-based Southern Rhône Reds
- Osso Bucco
- Pasta Bolognese
- Braised Beef
- BBQ Pork Ribs
- Citrus Salad
- Roasted Beets
- Vinaigrette Dressed Salads
- White Wine Braised Chicken
- Lemon Chicken
- Shrimp & Garlic Pasta
- Honey Roasted Pecans
- Firm Sheep Milk Cheeses
- Duck a l’Orange
- Duck Confit