Discover the treasures of the Rhone Valley
- Credit: Archant
The Rhone Valley can compete at the highest level with some of the best wines in the world and also offers 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 that are easy to appreciate when young.
The Rhone stretches between Lyons and Avignon with diverse terroirs ensuring a diverse 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 Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Mourvedre. Rhone wines with a hint of complexity are the better quality Cotes du Rhone Villages, the next level up in the Rhone hierarchy. At this level the blend of grapes must include not less than 50 per cent Grenache plus Syrah and Mourvedre.
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The next tier of Rhone wines are those from 18 Rhone appellations that can include the individual villages names in their title such as Seguret making fleshy ripe wines, Cairanne lighter but still fruity with a hint of spice, and Sablet that is full of berry fruit with pepper and spice.
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.
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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. Great value too especially in the lesser Cotes du Rhone and CDR Villages appellations.