Most people have some degree of familiarity with the Rhône wines of Southern France. They have typically heard of Grenache, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, or Côtes du Rhône. However, many people may not be aware of some of the other red wine regions, such as Vacqueyras, that can produce amazing reds for great value. This blog will try to explain a little about the history and basics of the southern Rhône and the wines that come from the Southern Rhône Valley region. Hopefully this will inspire you to discover and enjoy the Rhône as much as I do!The Rhône Valley is a wine region in southeast France and is named for the Rhône River that runs through the region on its way to the Mediterranean Sea. The Rhône River separates the Alps from the Massif Central, an elevated and mountainous part of southern France. The north is mountainous ancient granitic rock. The south is partially an ancient seabed with calcareous clay and limestone. The river has deposited sand, flinty pebbles, and clay silt as well. This gives growers a wide variety of different soils and terroir to choose from in the Rhône. And given the range of soils as well as the variance of elevations in the region and the diversity of available grape varieties, styles of wine vary greatly from big, long-aged Syrahs to bright and cheery rosés.Rhône wines are some of the most ancient in France. Evidence has suggested that the Greeks were growing grapes in the fourth century BCE in Marseille and in the first century BCE in the northern part of the Rhône Valley. A good deal of the success was due to the presence of sandstone clay deposits allowing the Greeks and Romans to easily make their earthenware jars, amphorae or dolia, which were used to transport wines as well as the famous roman fish sauce.The Romans had a lasting impression on the area. They established many of the towns and vineyard sites that still exist today. At the height of the Roman Empire, the Rhône Valley wines were rivaling those from Italy in terms of quality and production. Yet after the fall of the empire, the export markets for Rhône wines dried up and great interest wasn’t renewed again until the Catholic Church rediscovered the amazing wines of the Rhône in the middle ages.As with many wine regions in France, the Catholic Church has had a role in forming the wines made in the present day and establishing some of the best vineyards. In the late 13th century, the French king Louis VIII granted a parcel of land to the Catholic church around the town of Avignon called Comtat Venaissin. Also in the late 13th century, riots and general unrest ushered in a chaotic time for Rome. Politically speaking, the church had lost the respect and control of the nobles around Rome to the point where they no longer granted military protection. Following the election of French bishop Clement V to the papacy, he moved the papacy to the Southern Rhône region around the town of Avignon. A general rumor at the time was that the goal was to cozy up to the King Philip of France for political power. Regardless of the explanation, this ushered in the Avignon Papacy that lasted from 1305 until 1378. While this blog is not about Châteauneuf-du-Pape (French for “new castle of the Pope”), it is worth noting that the church ushered in a renaissance of Rhône wines and invigorated the region. The quality summarily increased, vineyard sites were replanted, and the export markets began to grow again.Even though the popes eventually moved back to Rome, the Rhône was on the map and the wines were firmly established. Trade was flourishing due to the high reputation of the wines, and local ports were busy. Due to increased popularity, local wine regulations were introduced in 1650 to guarantee provenance and quality. First known as Côste du Rhône, the famous name of Côtes du Rhône was established in the mid-18th century and validated by the courts in 1936.Baron Le Roy, a grower in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, championed the establishment of a governing body to maintain and regiment wine appellations. The Baron also successfully lobbied for the first AOC in the Rhône in 1933. The terms and limits he set forth became the standard for all subsequent AOC regions (appellation d’origine contrôlée, or controlled area of origin). To this day, the entrants follow limits on growing area, grape varieties, local practices, cultivation methods, minimum alcohol content, and harvest periods. Baron Le Roy later became involved in the founding of the INAO (Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité), the governing body that eventually took over the governing of all AOC regions and entrants, and presided over it from 1947 to 1967.The Southern Rhône accounts for nearly 95% of the total Rhône wine production, and the majority of that is red. Most of those are wines based on blends with Grenache as the star player. The popular blend is called a GSM, as it consists of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, and Cinsault is frequently included as well.Côtes du RhôneThe Côtes du Rhône is the largest appellation and the base designation for wines for the entire Rhône. While it’s possible that a Northern Rhône Syrah could be de-classified down to the Côtes du Rhône level, it is more than likely to be a Grenache-based wine from around one of 17 different villages or a blend of all the villages intended to achieve a certain style. Usually lower in price than the more prestigious regions, the quality for the price is very high. A great example that we like is:Guigal Cotes du Rhône Rouge 201190 Points. “A perennial favorite, it’s reassuring to see that the quality continues to remain high even from Guigal’s least expensive cuvee. Red fruits—cherries and raspberries—marry easily with hints of clove, cracked pepper, black olive and espresso. It’s round on the mid-palate, showing more focus and ample length on the finish.”– Wine Enthusiast90 Points. “Deep ruby. Smoky cherry and blueberry aromas display very good clarity and a touch of cracked pepper. Showing its Syrah component, with sappy black and blue fruit flavors sharpened by a spicy nuance. A sexy floral note comes up on a gently tannic finish that lingers with very good persistence. As usual, this wine punches well above its category and should reward at least another four or five years of patience.”– Antonio Galloni’s VinousCôtes du Rhône-VillagesImagine a large pyramid: at the bottom of the pyramid is the base (and obviously the largest part)—this is the space reserved for Côtes du Rhône. The next level up is referred to as the village level. As of 2016, there are 17 villages or communes, and the label must bear the name of the village as well as the title Côtes du Rhône. In this case, Seguret is that village. If it is a blend from more than one village, the village names will be left off and just “Villages” will be present.A great example we like is:Domaine de Mourchon Côtes du Rhône Villages Seguret Grande Reserve 201193 Points. “In the same ball park and another incredible effort from this producer, the 2011 Côtes du Rhône Villages Grand Reserve is a blend of two-thirds Grenache and one-third Syrah that was aged in 60% barrel and 40% tank. Awesome on all accounts, with a thrilling bouquet of raspberry liqueur, crushed flowers, spice, licorice and herbs de Provence, this medium to full-bodied beauty has no hard edges, beautiful purity of fruit and a heady, lengthy finish that pumps out loads of fruit while staying fresh and clean. It’s a superb effort that should not be missed.” – Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate90 Points. “This is solid, with a nice core of crushed plum, blackberry and boysenberry fruit, lined with lightly briary tannins and framed by a graphite note on the finish.” – Wine SpectatorGigondasSome of the communes and villages have been awarded their own AOC designations or named areas, and these make up the next-highest level in the quality pyramid. Gigondas is made from at least 50% Grenache, and compares to its more famous cousin Châteauneuf-du-Pape in a lot of ways including soil type, ageing, and winemaking.A great example we like is:Famille Perrin Gigondas Clos des Tourelles 201294 Points: “Ratcheting the quality level up a notch, the 2012 Gigondas Domaine du Clos des Tourelles comes from a property, purchased in 2008, that’s located just outside the village of Gigondas and that’s completely enclosed by a stone wall (hence the use of Clos in the name). It’s also the only wine not vinified at the Famille Perrin winery (which is located just north of Beaucastel) and is vinified in Gigondas. Serious on all accounts, with stunning aromas of sweet black and red fruits, bouquet garni, dried flowers and dusty soil notes, it hits the palate with medium to full-bodied richness, loads of textured and chewy tannin. Improving in the glass, this beautiful Gigondas will benefit from short-term cellaring and have 12-15 years of total evolution. Drink 2016-2027.” – Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate92 Points: “A ripe, silky style, with lush boysenberry and plum confiture notes that glide along, maintaining definition as hints of fruitcake, anise and chocolate move throughout. Drink now through 2022.” – Wine SpectatorVacqueyrasLarger than Gigondas and known to be a bit more rustic, the same rules apply, as does the similarity to more famous regions with better value. This region can have more variable quality due to its size but if you look carefully, you can find some great wines.A great example we like is:Dom. La Garrigue Vacqueyras La Canterelle 201292 Points “Bright violet color. Sexy aromas of black raspberry, cherry compote, potpourri and incense. Supple, pliant and focused on the palate, offering intense red and dark berry fruit and floral pastille flavors that deepen with air. The long, sweet, intensely spicy finish features silky tannins and a suave, lingering suggestion of candied flowers. These vines reportedly range from 80 to over 100 years of age.”– Antonio Galloni’s VinousLirac & CairanneSimilar to Gigondas and Vacqueyras in that Grenache is the star but not as well-known, these regions produce great value wines (but not necessarily cheap). They sit above the village level and are a great choice for lovers of richer, new-world-style wines.A great Lirac we like is:Domaine de la Mordoree Lirac La Reine des Bois 201293 Points “Even better, and a smoking Lirac that vies for the top wine of the appellation, the 2012 Lirac La Reine des Bois has gorgeous crème de cassis, licorice, pan drippings, wood spice and hints of graphite. Offering knockout purity, full-bodied richness and ultra-fine tannin, it tastes like a top flight Châteauneuf-du-Pape and will drink nicely for over a decade.” – Robert Parker’s The Wine AdvocateA great Cairanne we like is:Domaine Roche Cairanne 201290 Points: “A sexy wine made under the auspices of globe-trotting oenologist Philippe Cambie, this 2012 Côtes du Rhône-Villages Cairanne was produced from 40 to 105-year-old vines. The blend was 70% Grenache (aged in concrete) and 30% Syrah (aged in barrique) from yields of 20 to 30 hectoliters per hectare. It exhibits a delicious, up-front, front end-loaded, richly fruity style with lots of raspberry, black cherry, roasted herb, loamy soil and underbrush notes. This corpulent, fleshy red can be enjoyed over the next 4-5 years.” – Robert Parker’s The Wine AdvocateI hope you enjoy your wine travels through the Rhône. There is so much more still that has not been mentioned here, including the amazing whites, rosés and dessert wines to try. Cheers!
In the search for a perfect value red to serve at my sister’s wedding next spring, we’ve started to pick up some bottles to taste. Since we visit the Rhône region often, I think it appropriate that she include a wine from the area. So off I went to find a great value Rhône wine. Focusing on reds, we ordered three to taste over this past weekend: a Côtes-du-Ventoux, a Côtes-du-Rhône and a Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, all about the same price range ($12-$13). I gathered a well-rounded tasting panel of baby boomers (my parents and my aunt), Gen-Xers (myself) and millennials (my sister and her fiancé). Here is how these wines fared:Wine #1: ’08 Delas Côtes-du-Ventoux
2008 was not a terrible year in the Rhône, but it was not fantastic, either. While the wine had good berry fruit on the nose and palate, it was just “okay” by my Rhône standards. The rest of the panel felt the same – definitely drinkable, but the fruit flavor was a bit stewed and lacked freshness. I like a good red Rhône to brighten the palate with fresh fruit and spice. This wine just did not do that. I really enjoy Delas and the ’07 Côtes-du-Ventoux was delicious. I am next up to order the ’09 as this ’08 was disappointing.Wine #2: ’09 Delas St. Esprit Côtes-du-Rhône
I had high hopes for this wine. Delas + excellent 2009 vintage = yummy, right? Well, the rest of my panel thought so. They really enjoyed the spice and dense fruit and a touch of floral notes. I liked this wine, but didn’t love it. Something about it was almost “candied” to me and again, it lacked that fresh, vibrant fruit I want from my red Rhône wines. But it got a big thumbs up from most everyone else and it was good for the price.Wine #3: ’09 Perrin Côtes-du-Rhône Villages
Hands down my favorite. This wine has that fresh fruit and vibrant acidity I was looking for in a red CDR. It is balanced, well-structured and yet smooth. It has a touch of spice and sweet herbs (like rosemary) that really rounded out the flavors. This is the wine I drank all night as it was a great food match. It almost made up for the fact that the 2004 Beaucastel Chateaneuf-du-Pape (also by the Perrin family) I opened the other night was corked… but not quite.The verdict? All three wines were good. The Delas CDR received “very good” and “great” reviews from the group, as did the Perrin CDR. When we took a vote for the favorite, the Perrin won.
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.
We love to watch the trends of our buyers at Wine.com. Though they don’t always represent what is going on through the country, it is kind of cool to see what’s going on with our customers and why they are buying what they are buying. This week I’m going over our top 5 appellations this year, giving you the facts on the region and the wines!#1: Cotes-du-Rhone. Known for value and quality, the Cotes-du-Rhone is full of easy-drinking wines that are perfect for food. This year, the region was up 151% in sales. Why the growth? A few reasons. First, some stellar back-to-back vintages – ‘06, ‘07 and ‘08 are all particularly touted as excellent. Excellent vintages can mean that the “starter” wines of a region, such as Cotes-du-Rhone in the Rhone Valley, can offer incredible quality for the price. CdR facts – – The appellation of Côtes du Rhône encompasses much of Rhone region, not to mention much of the wine!
– Two-thirds of the wine produced in the Rhone Valley is of the Côtes-du-Rhône appellation.
– Over 23 grape varieties permitted in production
– Most all of this appellation is in the Southern Rhône, as the wines are blends, though there are some Cotes-du-Rhone areas in the Northern Rhone.
– Red wines are based on Grenache, which must constitute at least 40% of the blend
– Whites focus on Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Roussanne, occasionally with some Viognier. There is one higher level in the Côtes du Rhône called Côtes du Rhône Villages. These wines are from specific village areas that have higher standards the wine must reach to receive the village label. For example, reds from this appellation must con tain at least 50% of Grenache. Some villages to take note of are Cairanne, Rasteau, Seguret and Sablet. I am a particular fan of Cairanne. The wines of Cotes-du-Rhone are delicious and often easy drinking. They combine good, ripe berry fruit with layers of spice and sometimes a touch of earthiness. Acid and alcohol are usually in balance (careful on some of those 2007 wines as the alcohol can be a big high!) and tannins are low to medium in the reds. These factors make CdR wines perfect for a variety of foods in a variety of seasons. So grab a bottle or two and see why this region continues to grow!
It’s Rhone month! For a few reasons – first, November is Rhône month for our wine clubs and we’ve been tasting some of the delicious wines going out in the Wine.com club shipments and I promise, if you are a wine club member, you will be pleased. Second, it’s the time of year for Rhône wines. The cooler temperatures and the warm wines are an excellent pair. And finally, on a personal note, my mom just passed her Rhône Master Level exam through the French Wine Society – one of only 10 who received scores over 80%! So, in honor of our wine club theme AND Mom, here are a few Rhônes that rock.Côtes-du-Ventoux – A couple of our wines in the wine clubs this month are from the Cotes-du-Ventoux. And I’m officially a fan! I’ve tasted the La Vielle Ferme Cotes-du-Ventoux before and for $8, it's hard to beat. But after expanding my Ventoux repertoire, I get excited about this region. A fairly large area situated on the east bank of the Rhône river, this is what I’d call and up-and-coming region, though they’ve been making wine there for centuries. I say up-and-coming because more merchants/producers in the Rhône getting this juice in bottles that are making it out of the country. The wines are similar to Côtes-du-Rhône – based on Grenache and blended with Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault (they also use Carignan here). Taste is similar to Côtes-du-Rhône wines as well, though the Ventoux wines are a bit fuller-bodied and seem richer on the palate – a bit more savory if you will. The majority of the wines here are red, though they do make some refreshing whites and some tasty rose. Delas, La Vielle Ferme and Chateau Pesquie – all are fantastic wines and values. Vinsobres – A newly appointed “cru,” Vinsobres was upgraded from a Côtes-du-Rhône Villages to its own appellation in 2005. 50% Grenache is required in the blend. We tasted the Perrin & Fils Vinsobres Les Cornuds 2006 recently and it was excellent… Warm and inviting, dark red fruits, dried herbs, excellent balance of acid and tannin, long finish. What you love about Rhône wines is in this bottle. Costières de Nîmes– Another “up-and-coming” region, this area is on the other side of the Rhône– the right bank. It’s making reds and whites, but what stand out to me are the delicious white blends from here. Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Marsanne – the usual suspects for making Rhône whites. But he ones I’ve tasted have a higher proportion of Roussanne, the delicate, highly aromatic grape of the region. This in turn leads to wonderfully aromatic wine with a full mouthfeel and lingering finish. Reds and rose wine are also great in these parts. St. Joseph – St.Joseph, on the right bank of the Rhône River on the north side. 100% Syrah, making a wine with excellent structure. The ones I have tasted a bit less abrasive than the more edgy Cornas. These wines offer big, black fruits and lots of peppery spice, with an excellent tannic structure and a quite a finish. If you’re looking for something to pair with game, hearty stews or a hard cheese, these wines are a great match. Guigal makes excellent St.Joseph wines, but for value, try the Delas or the St. Cosme. Interested in learning more about the Rhone? Visit www.rhone-wines.com