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Rhône wine refers to wine made in the Rhône Valley viticultural region of France. It’s the second largest region in France, after Bordeaux, but compared to Bordeaux and Burgundy, Rhône wine is quite underrated.
Wine has been produced in the Rhône Valley since 600BC. It can be split into two distinct subregions, the cooler Northern Rhône and the more Mediterranean Southern Rhône, each with their own trademark grapes. Numerous other appellations are contained within those two, including the famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the south.
The grapes most commonly associated with Northern Rhône are the red grape Syrah, and the white wine grapes Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne.
In the South a much wider range of grapes are grown, including but not limited to Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Cinsault, Muscardin and Roussanne.
Rhône Valley grapes have not had as much success abroad as ones from Bordeaux or Burgundy, but there are a few notable examples. Syrah/Shiraz has been immensely successful in Australia, and Cinsault in South Africa where it is called Hermitage.
Rhône Wine Tasting Notes
The Rhône produces such a wide range of wines that it is difficult to define them all with a set of tasting notes. However, the two regions within the Rhône Valley can be characterized by their flagship red wine grapes.
The Northern Rhône is best known for inky, bold and tannic wines made from Syrah. The Southern Rhône Valley is more famous for Grenache based red wines, which will typically be rounder, with more obvious red fruit flavors and higher alcohol levels.
Rhône Wine Styles and Classifications
Rhône Valley wines can range from easy drinking reds to oaky, ageworthy whites. These are some of the most famous styles and blends to look out for, within the region’s numerous AOC appellations.
Sweet fortified wines are made in the Beaumes-de-Venise and Rasteau AOC’s in Southern Rhône. AOC is the highest tier classification that French wines can receive, and there are over 30 AOC appellations within the Rhône Valley.
In the Northern Rhône, red wines are made from Syrah, often blended with portions of white wine grapes like Viognier. They are lean, tannic and often meaty, with lots of aging potential. Cote Rotie and Hermitage produce the best examples of Northern Rhône reds.
White wines are also produced in several of the Northern Rhône AOC’s, made from Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. These can all be described as aromatic, food-friendly, and surprisingly full-bodied for white wines.
Southern Rhône reds tend to be based on Grenache, but can be blended with a lot of other grapes, both red and white. The most famous examples are made in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where 19 different grapes are permitted in a red blend. The Côtes-du-Rhône AOC red blends are also worth keeping an eye out for.
Oaky, ageworthy whites are also produced in the South, often as a blend of several grapes, including Viognier, Ugni Blanc, and Clairette.
New World versions of Rhône reds, like Shiraz in Australia, will usually take on characteristics of ripe fruit, and are typically rounder and more fruit forward than their French counterparts.
When To Drink Rhône Wine
Rhône wine comes in many shapes and forms, so they are a great choice for a wine tasting. You could get hold of a Northern Rhône blend with Syrah and Viognier, and do some comparative tasting with a red blend from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, for example.
Rhône whites are generally quite full-bodied, so they are great company for richer dishes containing white meat or fish, such as turkey, roast chicken or grilled salmon. A lot of Rhône reds would also be fantastic pairings for a barbecue, as they often exhibit meaty characteristics.
Fun Facts About Rhône Wine
There are over 6,000 wine-growing properties within the Rhône Valley’s AOC appellations.
The Rhône is where phylloxera was first discovered in Europe – the region fell in popularity after the spread of the disease, as it was too poor to replant many vineyards.
Although Grenache has become the face of the Southern Rhône, the grape likely originates from Aragon in Spain.