Regional Focus: The Rhône

The Rhône, in southeast France, is the country’s second-largest wine region after Bordeaux; but it’s really best considered as two separate, distinct, areas.

The Rhone1

The elevated north, which grows mostly Syrah, makes barely a tenth of the Rhône’s wine but more-or-less monopolises the zone’s glamour. Forty kilometres long but very narrow and with vertiginous vineyards, the scope for expanding production here is limited, which helps keep prices frustratingly high, as there is ample demand for these structured, long-lived wines.

Northern appellations to seek out (deep pockets assumed) include Côte Rôtie, Hermitage and Cornas, which are made either exclusively from Syrah, or sometimes from Syrah plus a soupçon of Viognier. Crozes-Hermitage, the most-prolific of the north’s crus, is more affordable than the rest, but only by the lofty standards of the neighbourhood.

Some whites are made in the north, too, either from blends of Marsanne and Roussanne or, in the case of Condrieu, from pure Viognier. Again, these are very much top-shelf bottles.

The good news is that the rollicking south – where most Côtes-du-Rhône and all Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages (note: the latter is superior to the former) originates – is more modestly priced. Grenache is king here, albeit supported by an impressive cast of ancillary grapes, the most important of which are Syrah and Mourvedre. The mysterious ‘GSM’ that you sometimes see on New World labels refers to this much-copied, southern Rhône ‘recipe’.

Flat, hot and productive, the expansive south churns out not just tankers of inexpensive, everyday Côte-du-Rhône/Villages but also increasingly-good ‘cru’ wines such as Rasteau, Gigondas, Vacqueyras and, of course, Chateauneuf-du-Pape – the south’s celebrity wine. This part of the Rhône also includes Tavel, France’s sole rosé-wine-only appellation.

And as the southern Rhône enjoys a reliable Mediterranean climate you don’t tend to get bad vintages – another plus!

The Rhone2


3 to try

Mazets de Saint Victor Côtes du Rhône €9.99 on promo
At just a tenner a pop, this full-flavoured CdR offers stunning value for money!

‘Les Banquettes Escarpées’ Rasteau 2010 €17.20 on promo
Strapping Rhone from the region’s youngest appellation, Rasteau.

Chante Cigale Châteauneuf du Pape 2010 €28 on promo
A medal winner at the Decanter World Wine Awards, this Rhône ranger exudes confidence and style.


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