The Rhone Valley – home to great wines

Wines from the Rhone Valley.

Wines from the Rhone Valley. - Credit: Archant

Crisp early mornings, warm Indian summer days – autumn is nearly here together with a chill that is especially noticeable after our long hot summer. Time to check out the deep ripe fruity wines happily left forgotten on the wine rack, and the Rhone Valley wines fit neatly into this slot.

The Rhone Valley can compete at the highest level with some of the best wines in the world, but also offer great value. The wines from the northern Rhone are well-structured stylish wines made to last with aging potential and these are in contrast with southern Rhone wines that are full of softer berries and cherry fruits which are easy to appreciate when young.

The Rhone stretches between Lyons and Avignon with diverse terroirs ensuring a mixed range of wines with a natural divide between north and south. The Cotes du Rhone Appellation is the second largest and the most widely exported to the UK. It is also one of the oldest wine regions in France.

In the north the climate is cool as a result of the mistral wind and thus the Syrah grapes grown here have a more tannic structure than those in the south. In the south the rugged valleys have a more Mediterranean climate with hot summers producing riper grapes with softer tannins.

Chateauneuf du Pape is one of the best-known wines from the southern Rhone though a little known fact is that it can be made from up to 19 different grape varieties of which nine are white! However, most are blends include Shiraz and Grenache with Mourvedre, Carignan, Cinsault and others together with a splash of the white grape Viognier. The best Chateauneuf du Papes are aged in oak and are rich, spicy and stylish with great depth of lingering flavours. Those from Domaine de Chante Cigale are classic examples of this wine and offer great value.

There are some delicious smooth and fruity Cotes du Rhone wines - a generic appellation - such as the Reserve de l’Abbe that are a lovely drink based on a blend of different grapes including Grenache and Syrah, but if you want a hint of complexity look out for the better quality Cotes du Rhone Villages.

Rhone wines are those from the individually named villages such as Seguret making fleshy ripe wines, Cairanne lighter but still fruity with a hint of spice, and Ventoux that is softly peppery with spice. These higher quality wines are from specific vineyard areas with length and depth of flavour.

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In the north the Syrah grape reigns and the wines are all of higher quality than Cotes du Rhone and are found under their regional names of St Joseph, Crozes Hermitage, Cote Rotie and Cornas. They cannot include other red grapes in their blends they can use Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne which can add a lighter aroma and help soften the austere tannins that create the more-tight knit briary styles of wine in the north of the region.

It is in the northern Rhone that some of the most revered white French wines from the Rhone are produced – Condrieu and Chateau Grillet – from the Viognier grape that has great aging potential and oak aging adds a mellow nose and palate of peaches and dried fruit and textured notes. Roussanne and Marsanne are two other aromatic white grapes that grow exceptionally well here.

The Rhone Valley shows another face of the Syrah grape reflecting its ability to produce appealing quality wines when made from that grape alone or in a blend in a region of diverse microclimates and terroirs and therefore wine styles.