Rhone valley wines: Sampling the best of France

The Cotes du Rhone is the second largest wine growing region in France and is renowned for some of the world’s best valued wines as well one of the most recognisable names in Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Settled in the southeast of France, the region follows the course of the eponymous Rhone river for almost 150 miles from Lyon to the Rhone Delta, near the Mediterranean coast. The sheer scale of the Cotes du Rhone wine region, featuring over 30,000 hectares of vineyards that serve a largely English audience, can be conveniently divided into two areas.

The smaller northern section is home of the highest quality appellations and is almost entirely devoted to Syrah for its predominantly red wines, while Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne constitute the white grape varieties used in blending.

There is a longer list of varieties grown in the south – a total of 21 different grape types are allowed across the entire southern Cotes du Rhone wine region – which accounts for 95% of production, although only the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation shares the same prestige as its northern relations.

Almost all Rhone Valley wines are red varieties (89%) dominated by Grenache, followed by Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault and Carignan – while the most important white grape varietal is Grenache Blanc, with some rosé and sweet wines also produced in the region.

Although there are several appellations in the Cotes du Rhone wine region, the simplest way of understanding them is to differentiate between the less prestigious Cotes du Rhone AOC and the higher quality Cotes du Rhone Villages AOC.

The superior Cotes du Rhone Villages appellation is restricted to certain villages clustered in the south – with only around 20 of these allowed to add their village name to the label.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which translates as ‘The Pope’s New Crib’, is undeniably the most renowned red wine from the Cotes du Rhone. Despite using several of the 14 permitted grape types, the full-bodied red is remarkably consistent and apparently used as a blueprint for other Rhone Valley wines to follow.

Elsewhere, the valley’s most recognised rosé is Tavel, which is grown across the river on the right bank. And the region also produces some impressive natural sweet wines (vin doux naturel) such as Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise.

Aside from value, Cotes du Rhone wines are generally best enjoyed on release, with no essential need for ageing, and are extremely food friendly: Red wines can be paired with beef, pork, game, duck, lamb, sausage, veal and Asian dishes; white wines accommodate fish, seafood and even sushi; and both are ideally suited to hard and soft cheeses.

These characteristics combine to make the Cotes du Rhone extremely popular with wine and food tourists. Our exclusive local experts can organise a range of exclusive tours, luxury stays and incredible gastro experiences across the Cotes du Rhone wine region.

France has so many unique regions to choose from it can be overwhelming to decide on a particular wine route to explore during a visit to the country. Our close relationships with leading wine travel agencies and the country’s most revered wineries allow us to design bespoke trips to your exact needs.

These include a private tour of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape region where an expert guide will share the history of local wines and wine tasting techniques while exploring three or four vineyards of the celebrated region.

Visit our France destination page for more inspiration and start planning a tour to the spiritual home of wine.

Why book with Wine Paths?