French Wine Regions - The Rhone Valley
The Source of the Rhone River in Switzerland
French Wine Regions
What is Chateauneuf du Pape?
French Wine Regions – The Rhone Valley
The source of the Rhone River is the Rhone glacier High up in the Swiss Alps. As it winds its way through the Canton of Valais you can already see vineyards situated along the steep slopes of the river.
The Rhone River pauses for a brief rest at Lake Geneva, before continuing on to Lyon, France, where it joins up with the Saone River on its journey to the Mediterranean.
The Rhone wine region of France extends from Vienne, just south of Lyon, all the way to Avignon, which is not that far from the Mediterranean port city of Marsielle.
To understand the wines of Rhone Valley, I recommend that you start with the following ten important facts:
1. The Rhone Valley is the third largest wine region in France typically producing around 450 million bottles of wine a year.
This is about 9% of the total wine production in France and almost half as much wine as is produced in Bordeaux.
2. There are more than 6000 wine growing properties in the Rhone Valley, 1837 private wineries, 103 cooperatives and 51 negociants (wine producers and merchants)
3. The Rhone Valley can be divided geographically into two distinctly different regions with different wines made from different grape varieties:
- The Northern Rhone is cooler with harsh winters and warm summers. Syrah (Shiraz in Australia) is the main red wine grape and Viognier along with Marsanne and Roussanne are the principal white wine grapes. The best known wines from this region are Cote Rote, Hermitage, Coronas, Condrieu and Chateau Grillet.
(The Northern Rhone produces only 10% of the total Rhone Wines)
- The Southern Rhone has a more Mediterranean climate with milder winters and hot summers. The most famous wine from this region is Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which is made from a blend of up to 13 different grape varieties including Grenache Noir. This region is also the home of most of the wine, which is simply labeled as Cote-du-Rhone.
(The Southern Rhone produces 90 % of all of the Rhone Wines)
4. The Rhone has four categories of AOC classifications:
a.) Cote de Rhone –
Can be used in 171 communes throughout the entire wine region and is the lowest classification for Rhone wines.
b.) Cote du Rhone Villages –
Is allowed for only 95 communes with a higher minimum requirement for grape maturity.
c.) Cote du Rhone Villages together with the village name –
is allowed in only 19 communes.
d.) Cru –
There are 20 named appellations, which display only the name of the cru and not Cotes du Rhone.
In the Northern Rhone you have Cote Rotie, Condrieu, Chateau Grillet, Saint Joseph, Crozes Hermitage, Hermitage, etc.
In the Southern Rhone you have Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Lirac, Tavel and Beaumes de Venise, etc.
5. Chateauneuf du Pape roughly translates to "the new home of the Pope".
In 1308, Pope Clement V relocated the papacy to Avignon, France where it remained for 70 years. Pope Clement V and his successor. John XXII did a great deal to advance the viticulture in the region and the wines from that area soon became known as "Vin du Pape". More recently, Robert Parker began promoting these wines so that they are currently vastly overpriced.
6. The majority of the wine from the Rhone Valley is dry red wine but white wine and roses are also produced. There is even some sparkling wine and fortified wine production. At the end of this article, I have provided two tables, which indicate the types of wine, produced and the principal grape varieties used in each of the Rhone AOCs.
7. When I started studying French wines in the mid 1960s, they were not out of reach for an unmarried man with a good salary.
In particular, Rhone wines were good buys and priced similar to Beaujolais wines. Even Premium wines like Cote Rotie and Hermitage were less than ten dollars a bottle. Today, these same red wines are priced similar to the wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy.
8. Chateau bottling, which is common in Bordeaux, does not exist in the Rhone Region (because there really aren’t many chateaux located there.
9. French wines are labeled according to the specific locations where the grapes are grown rather than by grape variety.
Appellation d’ Origine Controlee (AOC) If a French wine label simply lists the grape variety, it is an inferior wine
10. French Rhone vintages do not necessarily follow those of Bordeaux and Burgundy. The Rhone wine region is further south and entirely different grape varieties are grown there. Always consult a vintage chart and
always taste a bottle before buying a case.
Wines of the Rhone Valley - Part 1 of 3
The Rhone Alps
The Ancient Walled City of Avignon
The Rhone wine Region from Vienne to Avignon
Map of the Rhone Valley Wine Regions
THE NORTHERN RHONE AOCS WITH COMMENTS AND PRINCIPAL GRAPE VARIETIES
THE SOUTHERN RHONE AOCS WITH COMMENTS AND PRINCIPAL GRAPE VARIETIES
Robert Parker Vintage Wine Chart
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Chateauneuf du Pape
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