Reds of the Rhone
Posted on October 30 2014
The River Rhone is one of the great rivers of Europe, rising at over 2000 metres altitude in the Swiss Alps before flowing into France via Lake Geneva and turning south at Lyon. Carving it’s way through southern France the course of the river has sculpted a landscape capable of producing some of the countries finest wines. While we often think of the Rhone as a single entity, from a viticulture perspective it is very much a valley of two halves.
In the northern appellations of the Rhone valley Syrah is king and in some areas vinified alongside the white grape variety Viognier. Cote Rotie is one of the most famous wines of the region and can be eye-wateringly expensive, top producers however will often produce more modest wines from younger vines or from grapes sourced from a broader geographical area.
The tiny appellation of Hermitage is arguable one of the most widely recognised (and borrowed) names in the world of fine wine. Reds are 100% Syrah as are the wines from the neighbouring vineyards of Crozes-Hermitage. Over on the western bank however lies the much more extensive Saint-Joseph producing delicious wines of charm and complexity.
The southern areas of the Rhone valley contrast the north quite dramatically, and from a wine perspective are physically separate. Where the north is narrow steep sided valleys producing wines dominated by Syrah, the south covers the flat valley floor and Grenache forms the backbone of reds which are virtually always a blend. Mourvedre and Syrah are the most common blending partners but there are many more varieties cultivated. Chateauneuf-du-Pape can, in fact, be a blend of up to 13 grape varieties’ although just the one property, Chateau de Beaucastel, routinely uses all of them.
Several of the villages which together are known as the Cote du Rhone Villages have, relatively recently, been elevated in status and can now use the name of their village in its own right. Gigondas has long been one of my “go to” villages, producing wines which stack up very well against Chateauneuf-du-Pape but at a fraction of the cost. Montirius “Terre des Aines” Gigondas is a cracking example of a classic southern Rhone red. Other villages worth exploring are Cairanne, Vacqueras, Rasteau and Vinsobres.
If you’d like to take a vinous ramble through our Rhone range then we’ve selected a case of 12 of our favourites which will be available at a special price throughout November. We think you’ll enjoy these 10 reds with a couple of delicious whites thrown in for good measure. Don’t be concerned that some of our selected wines are from quite recent vintages. 2011 and 2012 in particular were very good and are extremely approachable and already drinking well.