Grapes and Wine in the Rhone Region
What makes Rhône so SPECIAL?
The great Rhône Valley grapes of Syrah (or Shiraz), Viognier, Mourvèdre, Roussanne and the rest have captured the attention of both the old and new world. From the steep terraces of the Rhône they have spread to the vineyards of Australia, New Zealand, California and South Africa. While years ago the quality of Hermitage, Côte Rotie, Condrieu and Chateauneuf-du-Pape was talked about in whispered terms by enthusiasts, most of us had experienced the smooth quaffable southern Rhône reds.
Today wine lovers the world over want to visit and experience these wines in their home - the Rhône .
Côtes du Rhône - North & South
The Rhône should be viewed as consisting of two fairly distinct viticultural and geographic regions. Different climates, different soils, different terrains, different grape varieties - all giving a different terroir and certainly distinctive wines.
Northern sub-region of Côtes du Rhône
In th north of Côtes du Rhône; from Vienne to Valence; are the Côte Rôtie, Condrieu - Château Grillet, Hermitage, Crozes Hermitage, and Cornas qppellqtions. Here the vines are cultivated on very steep slopes making the harvest extremely arduous with grapes qll hqving to be hand-picked. The northern Rhône is characterized by a continental climate with harsh winters but warm summers. Its climate is influenced by the mistral wind, which brings colder air from the Massif Central. Northern Rhône is therefore less warm than southern Rhône. The soil in the north tends to be granite with a mixture of shingle with clay and layered stones on the hillsides.
Southern sub-region of Côtes du Rhône
The southern Rhône sub-region has a more Mediterranean climate with milder winters and hot summers. Drought can be a problem in the area, but limited irrigation is permitted. The differing terroirs, together with the rugged landscape which partly protects the valleys from the Mistral, produce microclimates which give rise to a wide diversity of wines. A feature of the cultivation of the region is the use of large pebbles around the bases of the vines to absorb the heat of the sun during the day to keep the vines warm at night when, due to the cloudless skies, there is often a significant drop in temperature..
Principal Rhône Red Grape Varieties
A 1996 appellation ruling, which was aimed to protect the typical character of Côtes du Rhône wines, stipulated that in areas of red and rosé wine production, Grenache must make up at least 10% of the total plantings. In total, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre must represent at least 70% (with the exception of wines produced from predominantly Syrah in the northern part of the region).
Grenache yields good levels of alcohol, body, complex aromas of fruits, spices and at times liquorice. Comprises 55% of plantings
Syrah lends hints of spice as well as colour, structure and tannins, giving wines that can be impenetrably dark and intensely, richly, flavoured with great aging characteristics.
Mourvèdre brings colour and spices and is around 5% to 10% is used in blends for the aromatic persistence that it creates on the palate and for its soft, slow-maturing tannins
Cinsault produces rosé wines and fruity, young - primeur- wines. It is often blended with grapes such as Grenache and Carignan to add softness and bouquet
Principal Rhône White Grape Varieties
The appellation ruling, for white wines, requires 80% of plantings must be made up from white Grenache, Clairette, Marsanne, Roussanne, Bourboulenc and Viognier
Clairette is the dominant white wine grape. It adds structure with delicacy and finesse. On the palate it has a lively, lemony, fruity flavour making it ideal for sparkling wine production.
Grenache Blanc has high-sugar, high-acid, straw-coloured bunches which produce wines that are high in alcohol, with green apple flavours and aromas. Often blended with Roussanne.
Roussanne produces fruit that is high in acidity and in aromatic qualities that produce a wine that is racy and lively with the potential to age. An excellent blending wine.
Bourboulenc is a very old variety that ripens late, it has high acidity which makes it popular for use in blends to which it brings structure and spicy flavours. Accounts for round 1% of Rhone vines.
FACTS ON GRAPE GROWING and WINE MAKING in RHÔNE VALLEY
Name: AOC Côtes du Rhône
Location: From Vienne in the north extending on both banks of the Rhône river to Avignon in the south, and from the foothills of the Massif Central in the west to the fore-slopes of the Vaucluse and Luberon mountains east of the town of Orange
Vineyards: 5,292 concerns including 5,202 growers, 875 private producers, 70 co-operative wineries, and 20 merchant/producers and blenders
Places: 171 communes across six French departments
Size of the vineyards: 83,839 hectares
Production volume: 450 million bottles (14% of French wine production, of which 77% is red wine)
Soil: In the north, granite with broken rock with shingle and clay. In the south, limestone with gravels and sand
Weather: Continental in the north of the Rhône region (cold winter warm summer) Mediterranean in the south (mild winter hot summer)
RHÔNE WINE TYPES - Appellation wines
The Rhône Valley appellations in aphabetical order:
Beaumes-de-Venise, Côte-Rôtie, Cairanne, Château-Grillet, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Condrieu, Cornas, Costières de Nîmes, Côtes du Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages, Côtes du Tricastin, Crozes-Hermitage, Gigondas, Hermitage, Laudun, Lirac, Lubéron, Massif d`Uchaux, Rasteau, Roaix, Rousset-les-Vignes, Sablet, Saint-Joseph, Saint-Maurice, Saint-Peray, Séguret, Signargues, Tavel, Vacqueyras, Ventoux, Vinsobres, Visan.
The following examples of appellations are given to assist your understanding of the system in the Rhône
Côtes du Rhône
Throughout the Rhône Valley wines are produced that may be sold as Côtes du Rhône. What makes it complicated is that named appellations like Gigondas can declassify their vineyards especially where they may have younger vines and produce an often cheaper wine under the Côtes du Rhône classification. These wines can be red, white or rosé however they all must have a minimum of 11% alcohol
Côtes du Rhône Villages
The Côtes du Rhône Villages appellation is also throughout the AOC Rhône region however certain villages under this appellation can also include their village name on the label. Again, these may be red, white or rosé.
The most northerly Rhône appellation is Côte Rôtie (the "roasted slope"), which produces fine wine from the Syrah grape, sometimes with a small percentage of Viognier (5%) blended in to give an extra dimension to the wine. These are wonderful wines that will be ready to drink in 9 to 15 years and will continue to mature for up to 35 years.
Cornas is another special north Rhône appellation for the wine connoisseur, not least because some great Rhône wines can be had at some very fair prices. They are red wines made from 100% Syrah, and they can be impenetrably dark and intensely, richly flavoured.
Châteauneuf du Pape
The best known of the southern Rhône appellations is Châteauneuf du Pape The appellation allows the wine to be a blend up to 13 different grape varieties both red and white however in practice the top wines only use three or four different grapes. The predominant grape is Grenache at round 80 to 90% and the resulting blends are well-structured red wines with aromas of red fruit and spices and are often very affordable and excellent value for money.
Gigondas is a well known appellation of the southern Rhône and an old favourite of ours. Grenache dominates the wines along with Syrah and Mourvèdre giving wines that are full bodied, rich and spicy, laden with red fruit flavours and aromas.
The Vacqueyras appellation was legally defined in 1990 and is adjacent to Gigondas. It produces mainly red wines, with a small amount of white and rosé. The reds are dominated by Grenache. The wines are often a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre giving a more "new world" style with aromatic complexity combined with powerful tannins and yet rounded enough to be drunk after 2 to 4 years.
Tavel is an unusual appellation in that it is the only one in France to permit only rosé wines - any red or white wine produced here cannot legally be labelled as Tavel. It produces Grenache-dominated rosés and like all rosés they are best drunk young within 2 years of bottling. Very enjoyable wines for a picnic on a summer's day.
Côtes du Ventoux
Côtes du Ventoux is an appellation that covers a large area of the south-eastern Rhône. The red and roses wines are blends of Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvèdre and tend to be fruity with aromas of black fruit, spice, and pepper. The wines should be drunk young.
Costières de Nimes
The appellation was previously called Costières du Gard before changing its name to Costières de Nimes in 1989. The vineyards cover the area between Nimes on the right bank of the Rhône River and the hills bordering the delta, where Languedoc and Provence meet.
Costières de Nimes predominantly produces red and rosé wine from Carignan grapes primarily and Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre and other typical Languedoc grape varieties. However the red wines tend to be more in the Rhône style with fruit forward, rich and spicy aromas.