The Rhône is one of France’s most important wine rivers, funnelling its way through south-eastern France from its source in the Swiss Valais down to the Mediterranean.
It winds its way through the steep, Syrah-lined slopes of the northern Rhône, takes a 50km break from viticulture and finally flows through the sun-baked flat land of the southern Rhône, where Grenache takes over as king of the reds.
The Rhône, however, is not exactly one wine region, although wines from the regional appellation Côtes du Rhône may come from both the north and the south. The Rhône wine region map is clearly split into two with the north producing more prestigious wines mainly based on the Syrah variety and the south producing serious quantities of Grenache-based blends. Both subregions also produce white wine, but about 80% of wines produced here are red.
The steep northern reaches of the Rhône are home to the noble Syrah. The river twists and turns past Côte Rôtie, the so-called ‘roasted slope’, which produces some of the most exciting reds in France. The river turns here and vineyards face directly south-east; catching the maximum amount of sunlight and sheltered from sometimes blisteringly cold north winds, grapes can ripen effectively in what would otherwise be cool conditions. The slopes are so steep in places that winches have to be employed to work the vineyards. Syrah from here may contain up to 20% Viognier, yielding wines with haunting, savoury perfume. The river continues past Condrieu, the spiritual home of the fashionable, perfumed Viognier. Its steep, indented slope encompasses Château Grillet, one of France’s smallest appellations, one of the very few with just one owner. Here a virtual granite amphitheatre provides Viognier with shelter from the northern winds. Continuing south, you pass St-Joseph before reaching the northern Rhône’s other legendary appellation, Hermitage, located on the opposite, left bank of the river. The appellation produces very limited quantities of extremely long-lived Syrah, one of France’s most famous wines in the 18th and 19th centuries. The appellation claims to be the cradle of Syrah, but is also the home of Vin de Paille, an extremely rare sweet white wine produced from Marsanne and Roussanne in very ripe years. The town of Tain l'Hermitage, route des vins des Côtes du Rhône, France clings on to the side of the steep, terraced hill as the river turns sharply left before continuing south past Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas and St-Péray. St-Péray is the other white wine appellation of the north, producing still and traditional method sparkling wines of real finesse from Marsanne and Roussanne.
The Rhône wine region map takes a break before recommencing in the southern part of the valley, which has little in common with the north except the river and the cold winds that sometimes blow along it. The vines here are mostly gobelet trained and Grenache - noir, gris and blanche - is the dominant constituent of wines, although numerous other varieties, such as Mourvèdre and Cinsault are permitted in red blends here. Although not considered as noble as their northern cousins, the vineyards here produce the majority of Rhône valley wines, either in the guise of Côtes du Rhône or Côtes du Rhône Villages or more prestigious appellations such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas or Vacqueras. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is famed for its pudding stones, or galets, which are said to retain the heat and reflect it back into the vineyard at night, helping wines here to achieve their high levels of alcohol.
The southern Rhône wine region map also boasts one of France’s all rosé appellations and the fragrant Vin Doux Naturel of Beaumes-de-Venise.
Wine Paths’ local experts can help you explore both the famed and hidden treasures on the Rhône wine region map.
If you're interested in one of our Rhône Valley Wine Tours, please visit this link.
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