In this week’s feature of French wines, we’ll be looking at the Rhône Valley in Southern France which exists along the Rhône River.
The second-largest wine region in France, the Rhône Valley is split into two sections, Northern and Southern Rhône. Altogether, there are about 30 different appellations between the two areas, totaling over 71,000 hectares of vineyard, producing more than 400 million bottles of wine a year.
This region benefits greatly from a Mediterranean climate with long, warm summers and very mild winters. In the Southern Rhone, there is the Mistral Wind, a strong, cold wind that blows through and keeps the grapes dry. Because of the moisture in a Mediterranean climate, the dryness is crucial to keeping the grapes protected from fungi that grow in moist environments.
A defining appellation of the Rhône Valley is Châteauneuf-du-Pape, an exclusive region in Southern Rhône. The name literally translates to “the Pope’s new castle” because of Pope Clement V’s relocation to the town of Avignon in 1308. It’s said that the subsequent popes were quite fond of Burgundy wines and did quite a lot to improve the winemaking in the area. While the reds are more widely known from this region, both reds and whites are produced here, using up to 13 different grapes.
Northern and Southern Rhône differ in the grapes that are grown and the wines they produce. In the North, Syrah is the gold star for red wines while Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne are the main grapes for white wines. In fact, there are even blends made of both Syrah and Viognier that you can only find here. Southern Rhône focuses more on red blends, primarily made from Grenache, especially in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Although they are technically the same region, wines made in the north and south of the Rhône Valley are truly different. The Syrah of Northern Rhône is very aromatic and deep in color with a peppery effect. Grenache and Southern Rhône reds are fruity and warm with softer, well-rounded palates. The Northern Viognier is also aromatic and very full-bodied, while the Southern Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc is summery, light, and typically oak-aged.
The Rhône Valley is one of France’s greatest achievements in terms of winemaking and wine production. The range of wines is absolutely beautiful and quite wide in variety, which means there is something for just about every occasion and every drinker!
What’s better than great wine and artisanal pizza?
The New York Times described Ridge Monte Bello as “America’s greatest Cabernet Sauvignon.”
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