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The ABCs of Rhône wines

In this article we will breakdown the information on Rhône wines and hope you will be able to pick up some useful info for the next wine shopping trip!

The Rhône Valley is a wine region situated in the southern France, stretching from just beneath Lyon, all the way south to the Mediterranean Sea. The region is home to many great terroirs such as Côte-Rotie, Hermitage, Condrieu, Châteauneuf du Pape, and Tavel.

The styles of Rhône wines can vary quite differently considering there are:

- 21 permitted grape varieties

- 16 Crus with own AOC status

- 20 Communes with own name under Côtes du Rhône-Villages level

- 95 Communes under Generic Côtes du Rhône-Villages level (including the 20 named villages)

- Various wine styles that include: Still red, Still white, Still rosé, Sparkling & Fortified.

Cru is a french term thats translates into 'Growth'. In the context of wine terminology, it is typically used to indicate high quality vineyard or group of vineyards.

At the very basic level, we can separate the entire Rhône region into:

Northern Rhône: from Vienne to Valence, and the Crus are:

  • Côte-Rotie

  • Saint Joseph

  • Hermitage

  • Crozes-Hermitage

  • Cornas

  • Condrieu (White)

  • Château Grillet (White)

  • Saint-Péray (White)

Northern Rhône is well-known for their cool-climate Syrah (AKA Shiraz, it is also the birth place, proven by DNA testing) and age-worthy Viognier. Wines from Côtie-Rotie and Hermitage are quite limited but they are highly coveted by wine enthusiasts around the world!

The Syrah from Northern Rhône are big, bold, spice-driven, and has a refreshing acidity that acts as the 'backbone' to the fleshy flavours. Often wines from regions like Crozes-Hermitage and Saint Joseph will provide excellent value!

The best whites from Northern Rhône are usually 100% Viognier, and they are often a rich, opulent, and barrel-aged style, with toasted oak and creamy texture.

Southern Rhône : from Montélimar to Nîmes, and the Crus are:

  • Beaumes de Venise (Sweet Fortified)

  • Cairanne

  • Châteauneuf du Pape

  • Gigondas

  • Lirac

  • Tavel (Rosé)

  • Rasteau

  • Vacqueyras

  • Vinsobres

In southern Rhône, the climate turns Mediterranean (hot summer, mild winter, and low rainfall), Grenache (AKA Garnacha in Spain) is dominant here . Broadly speaking, the red wines are made of the GSM blend that includes Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. The roles of each grape variety in the blend can be viewed as follow:

Côtes du Rhône: The largest wine producing AOC that covers both northern and southern Rhône (theorectically). However, almost all of the Côtes du Rhône wines are produced in the south, since most of the sub-region in Northern Rhône are covered in well-known appellations.

Côtes du Rhône Villages (Village Name): An appellation that has more stringent requirement than the Côtes du Rhône AOC. Among all the villages, there are 20 of which are allowed to add their village name to the wine label.

Some Crus in the southern Rhône are:

Vinsobres: fleshy dark berries with persistent tannin.

Cairanne: vibrant and creamy with subtle nuttiness.

Rasteau: originally know for their sweet fortified wines, their big and bold reds are gaining much attention recently as well.

Vacqueyras: ‘valley of the rocks’ - a combination of small pebbled soil name 'plateau des garrigues' and sandy 'safres' (Grenache loves it!) under the Dentelles de Montmirail. Vacqueyras is a undervalued appellation that often overshadowed by its big borthers Gigondas and Châteauneuf du pape.

Gigondas: stairway-like terrain on the slope of Dentelles de Montmirail, Gigondas enjoys a large share of the mistral wind from the northern side of the Rhône valley. The wines are typically bold, ripe, forward, and high in alcohol; very similar to Châteauneuf du pape.

Châteauneuf du Pape (CDP): known as 'the Pope's new castle', the history of CDP dates all the way back to the 14th century. It is also France's very first recognised appellation in 1936. CDP is well-known for its big round pebbles 'galets roulés', which helps the soil to retain heat and hence ripen the Grenache to maturity. The wines are often described to be big, bold and concentrated with much jammy red fruit. It is the most prestigious appellation in the southern Rhône.

Lirac: one of the only two Crus on the right bank of the Rhône river together with Tavel. Traditionally known for their rosés, Lirac red is garnering more attention as its high quality reds tends to exhibit a full-bodied style closed to the CDPs

Tavel: a Rosé only Cru. One of the only few rosé in the world that would benefit from ageing. The rosé here are made from pressing red and white grapes juices and with a extended period of maceration (hence deeper colour, higher in tannin, fuller in body than other rosés). Locally, it is described as the ‘Rosé for the Kings’

Lastly, here’s a fun fact about Rhône to share during your next wine gathering:

The appellation of Châteauneuf du Pape has a law banning the takeoff, flying, and landing of UFOs!



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