With our sale on Rhône wine, the spotlight is on this famous wine producing region for the month of March. This three part series is the perfect opportunity for you to familiarise yourself with the Rhône Valley, and hopefully, wherever you’re getting your wine from, it will help you make a better buying choice in the future.
Northern Rhône is well known for its concentrated, peppery Syrah (aka Shiraz), and the three key appellations are Hermitage, Côte-Rôtie and Crozes-Hermitage. A fourth region, Condrieu, produces exceptional white wines from the Viognier grape.
Some of the world’s finest Syrah comes from Hermitage, and it is also responsible for Grenache and some full-bodied white wine in the form of Marsanne and Roussanne. The best vineyards occupy the steep sunlight hill on the left bank of the Rhône River (pictured) above the narrow town of Tain. Name your price when it comes to Hermitage. Fantastic as it is, cheap it is not, and it can be difficult to source.
Found near the town of Ampuis, Côte-Rôtie is another premium appellation, and again like Hermitage, many of the vineyards are located on steep terraces where only hand harvesting is possible. Although most wines are 100% Syrah, winemakers here can add up to 20% of the white Viognier to the blend, helping to impart a unique aroma to their wines.
Crozes-Hermitage is a much larger, flatter area, representing more than half of all wine produced in Northern Rhône. The wines are less intense and complex than Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie, but much more affordable. Syrah is the only red grape permitted under appellation laws, however, up to 15% of the blend can consist of the white Marsanne and Roussanne, from which there are also white wines produced. The wines of Crozes-Hermitage tend to be lighter and more restrained, but there are quite a number of surprising exceptions.
You’ll often hear the hardcore fans of Rhône sing the praises of Condrieu, the Northern Rhône appellation which can only produce white wines from Viognier. Most should be consumed young (within 2-3 years of harvest), but a number of them will age gracefully. They tend to be full bodied, not unlike the Marsanne and Roussanne of Hermitage, and possess wonderful peachy stone fruit flavours. Those who love it buy its limited quantity up every year, but if you look carefully enough you might get lucky.
Next week we head south to explore Côtes du Rhône, Gigondas & Vacqueyras. Click here to view our Rhône sale.