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French Wine Regions - The Rhone Valley

Updated on November 27, 2012

The Source of the Rhone River in Switzerland

The Rhone Glacier
The Rhone Glacier
Vineyards along the Rhone River in the Swiss Canton of Valais
Vineyards along the Rhone River in the Swiss Canton of Valais
The Rhone River enters Lake Geneva
The Rhone River enters Lake Geneva
The Steep Hills Where the Wines of Hermitage are Grown
The Steep Hills Where the Wines of Hermitage are Grown

French Wine Regions

Cast your vote for The Rhone Valley
Wines of Cote Rote
Wines of Cote Rote
A Vineyard in Chateauneuf du Pape
A Vineyard in Chateauneuf du Pape
Red wines of Chateauneuf du Pape
Red wines of Chateauneuf du Pape
White Wines of Chateauneuf du Pape
White Wines of Chateauneuf du Pape

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French Wine Regions – The Rhone Valley

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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.

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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.

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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.

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To understand the wines of Rhone Valley, I recommend that you start with the following ten important facts:

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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.

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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)

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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8. Chateau bottling, which is common in Bordeaux, does not exist in the Rhone Region (because there really aren’t many chateaux located there.

"estate bottled"

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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

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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

Avignon in the Distance
Avignon in the Distance
Avignon Close Up
Avignon Close Up

The Rhone wine Region from Vienne to Avignon

A
Lyon, France:
Lyon, France

get directions

B
Avignon, France:
Avignon, France

get directions

C
Marseille, France:
Marseille, France

get directions

D
Vienne, France:
Vienne, France

get directions

Map of the Rhone Valley Wine Regions

the Rhone Wine Regions
the Rhone Wine Regions

THE NORTHERN RHONE AOCS WITH COMMENTS AND PRINCIPAL GRAPE VARIETIES

Northern Rhone AOCs
Northern Rhone AOCs

THE SOUTHERN RHONE AOCS WITH COMMENTS AND PRINCIPAL GRAPE VARIETIES

Southern Rhone AOCs
Southern Rhone AOCs

Comments

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    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      6 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Beautiful photos, informative hub..

    • GiblinGirl profile image

      GiblinGirl 

      6 years ago from New Jersey

      Fantastic images and very informative. I'm not a wine drinker but your hub was an interesting read.

    • MomsTreasureChest profile image

      MomsTreasureChest 

      6 years ago

      Pour me a glass! Terrific hub, lots of great information!

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      Simply beautiful. Good work on this. Thank you. Sadly my body no longer tolerates any alcohol.

    • charmike4 profile image

      Michael Kromwyk 

      6 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia

      I've been drinking a lot more French wine recently rjsadowski and this is an interesting hub to put my tasting into perspective. French wine used to be expensive in Australia, but with more volume and a stronger Aussie dollar we can start to afford this wine...sometimes at a lower price point than local wine. Will need to open another bottle while I read your articles again methinks! Cheers Michael

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 

      6 years ago from Arizona

      I have to commend you on this very interesting and well done hub. I lived in France many years ago and part of the pleasure was sampling wines from different regions. Your photos are lovely Voted UP.

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