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The Rhone Wine: A Magnificent Drink and a Bottle of Class

What are the chances that your next red or white wine selection will be a well-known Rhone wine?

Considering the incredible variety of wines the Valley offers, quite high, in fact!

Over two millennia have passed since the beginning of winemaking in the Rhone Valley region of France. Every 13 seconds, a Rhone Valley wine is enjoyed somewhere in the world due to the wine’s immense popularity.

Let’s learn everything there is to know about these beloved wines, the history of the vineyards in the Rhone Valley, the wine-producing areas, and the top Rhone wine bottles you can add to your collection. We’ll also discuss the most efficient ways to buy these premium wines.

A Quick Peek at Rhone Wines

Only Bordeaux is larger in terms of wine production than the Rhone Valley Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC). On both banks of the Rhone river, it has more than 71,000 hectares of vast vines.

About 6,000 vines may be found in the Rhone Valley, which produces about 400 million bottles of wine per year, including the approachable Cotes du Rhone wines and the iconic Cote-Rotie, Chateauneuf du Pape, and Hermitage wines.

What are “Rhone-style wines”?

Wines created from Rhone Valley grape varietals, including Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Viognier, and Roussanne, are referred to as “Rhone wines”, regardless of where they are from. It’s interesting to note that American winemakers who employ Rhone grapes refer to themselves as Rhone Rangers.

Rhone Valley wines are also called for the region, in contrast to most wine labels that represent the grape variety.

Let’s now explore the history of the Rhone Valley.

A Short History of Rhone Valley’s Rich Wine Culture

Around the sixth century BC, the first vine cultivation in the Rhone region started. A little over 200 years later, Greek colonists established vineyards in Marseille. Some of the earliest vineyards in the world were established in the Northern Rhone region by the first century AD.

The town of Vienne was established by the Romans as they travelled down the Rhone river. The modern-day Cote-Rotie appellation of the Northern Rhone swiftly rose to prominence as a major wine trading hub.

After the fall of the Roman empire, the Rhone wine industry saw a slump. The Catholic Church’s influence led to its revival in the Middle Ages. The amount of wine produced increased dramatically during this time, and AOCs like the Cotes du Rhone appellation became important wine regions.

A little fun fact: The name Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which literally translates to “The Pope’s New Crib,” was given to the nearby appellation in 1309 after the Catholic papacy moved from Rome to Avignon.

Rhone Valley wines eventually fell out of favour as a result of the Great French Wine Blight of the 1860s, which caused a production problem. But in the 1960s, a handful of committed Rhone winemakers assisted in bringing them back to their previous splendour.

Next, let’s discover the major wine regions of Rhone Valley.

The Rhone Valley Wine Regions: North vs. South

Around 27 different wine varieties are grown in the terroir-rich vineyards of the Rhone Valley.

Similar to the Paso Robles appellation in the US, the Rhone Valley produces 94% red wines and only 6% whites and is mostly a red grape variety region.

1. The Northern Rhone Region

Only around 10% of the entire Rhone Valley wine-growing area is in the Northern Rhone.

The climate on its hilly terrain is continental. The vineyard lands are constructed as sloped terraces to prevent erosion and give the vines the most sunlight possible. They are also shielded from the chilly Mistral winds by the higher terrain.

Only a few grape types can grow in the stony soil, which is made up of granite, shingle, and clay. The Northern Rhone wine region is only permitted to grow one red grape variety, Syrah, in accordance with AOC regulations.

Syrah may be blended with up to 20% white grape varietals to improve flavour (especially in Cote Rotie). Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier are three of the most popular white grapes grown in the North.

2. The Southern Rhone Region

In terms of vineyard area and production (which accounts for 95% of the region’s wines), the Southern Rhone wine region dwarfs the northern one. More grape types can be found there than in the North, and it has a Mediterranean climate. The area is, however, exposed to the chilly Mistral wind due to the flat landscape.

The Southern Rhone region permits 13 different grape types. Red and white grape varietals may also be blended in the wine area.

Grenache is the local grape variety with the highest fame. The other red variations are:

  • Carignan
  • Cinsault 
  • Mourvedre
  • Syrah
  • Terret Noir
  • Vaccarese

In the Southern Rhone, white varieties are also grown, like:

  • Bourboulenc
  • Clairette
  • Grenache Blanc
  • Roussanne

Famous appellations, including Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Cote du Rhone, and Tavel AOCs, can be found in the southern Rhone.

That said, what distinguishes the wines from the North and South Rhone Valleys?

The Differences between North and South Rhone Wines

The following are some points where wines from the North and South Rhone Valley are similar and different:

a) Blending Styles and Flavors

The wines from both regions have their own unique blending flavours and styles. While the North Rhone Valley is renowned for its single-varietal vinification, the South Rhone Valley is noted for its mixes (e.g. Cotes du Rhone wine).

b) Grape Harvesting

The grapes in the hilly Northern Rhone are primarily picked by hand, whilst those in the Southern Rhone are frequently picked by machinery.

c) Aging Potential

Northern Rhone wines take time to mature, and you’ll be able to appreciate them most after ten years or more in the cellar. While many Southern Rhone wines are best served young, some, like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, age nicely.

d) Price

The southern Rhone Valley has more reasonably priced wines than the northern Rhone Valley. Northern wines are more exclusive and sought-after because they make up only 5% of all Rhone wines.

The Rhone wine is truly a magnificent drink. It has a rich history dating back to the Roman empire, and its production has been perfected over centuries. The wine is made from a variety of grapes, each of which contributes its own unique flavour. The result is a complex and nuanced wine that is perfect for any occasion. Whether you are enjoying a glass with a meal or simply sipping it on its own, the Rhone wine is sure to please.

If you are looking to buy vintage wines in the UK, look no further than our amazing selections of bottles here at Cru Wine. We provide fine wine with a modern approach, ensuring that buying wine is made easy and simple with a more enriched experience. Check out our online shop for more of our wine collections and their prices.

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