The Rhone Valley is one of my favorite wine growing regions in the world. Perhaps part of this reason is because I have the privilege of visiting the area almost every summer. Not only are there delicious warm summers with fields of wild lavender and rosemary wafting to your nose, but there’s some pretty spectacular wine as well.
Two things that make the Rhone stand out to me – diversity and quality. The northern and southern Rhone are so distinctly separate, both in geography and style, that were there not a river to connect them, they would easily be two separate appellations.
I drink more southern Rhone wines by far, which I assume is true for most people. Northern Rhone wines are known for being a bit more structured, age-worthy, collectible and expensive. Thus our value-driven wallets and drink-it-now palates are drawn to the south, where these styles of wine abound. And yet, the northern Rhone has some excellent wines that could be considered great values.
A quick northern Rhone cheat sheet: Syrah is the exclusive red grape, though most regions can blend a small percentage of white grapes into the wines (except Cornas, which is 100% Syrah). Viognier is the exclusive grape of Condrieu, while Marsanne and Roussanne join Viognier in most other northern Rhone white wine blends. Vines are trained high on steep, terraced slopes with granite-based, gravelly soils.
A few gems to look out for in the north:
Crozes-Hermitage – the little step-sibling to Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage is a great way to introduce your palate to the northern Rhone style, at a lower price tag. Guigal and Delas make some excellent examples.
St.-Joseph -Though Cornas is one of the more talked-about regions in the north, I love to find a good St.-Joseph. Sometimes they are a bit less… rustic than a Cornas and more approachable. They can range from great value to slightly collectible (see Guigal).
Southern Rhone cheat sheet:Grenache is the primary red grape, though almost all wines are blends, and include red grapes such as Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault. Whites are more rare, but are also blends, with Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne and Clairette leading the make up of most blends. Vines are often bush trained over flat terrain, with a warmer climate than the north.
Gems of the south:
Yes, I love a great Chateauneuf-du-Pape or a refreshing Tavel or a spicy Gigondas. But a few others I look out for are:
Cairenne – I think Cairenne will eventually be elevated to “cru” status, just as the Cotes-du_Rhone Villages Vinsobres was in 2004. Cairenne, one of the 18 Cotes-du-Rhone-Villages, is totally worthy of a try – it has the depth and complexity of many cru wines from the southern Rhone, but often with a lower price tag. Domaine Alary is a favorite of mine, but most Cairenne labels deliver beyond expectations.
Cotes-du-Ventoux – move over Cotes-du-Rhone, this is where you can find the new values! Offering refreshing and fruit-driven whites as well as rich and fruit-driven reds, this is a region I am watching. Loving that more and more wines are coming in from here.
It is Rhone Week at Wine.com, so it's a good time to stock up.
No matter what your palate, the Rhone most likely has something to satisfy it.