Discovering the Rhône wine region

Discover the Côtes du Rhône wine with map and tips to plan your trip. From north to south, find the information you need about French wines and vineyards.

Syrah, Grenache and Viognier aficionados dream of visiting the Rhône wine region, as it is the French wine-making region with the most acclaimed wines made from these grapes. The second largest wine-growing region in France and its vineyards thrive on both sides of its namesake river, just south of Lyon. Some Rhône Valley wines are famous world-over, like the renowned Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC (a blend of up to 13 grape varieties!); the Hermitage AOC -believed to be the highest expression of French Syrah, and the AOCs for fortified wines Beaumes de Venise and Rasteau.

When you visit the area, it is immediately clear that there are two sub-areas with distinct weather characteristics and vinicultural traditions in the Rhône wine region: the Northern Rhône and the Southern Rhône. As you can guess, these differences in climates and soils have a significant impact on the regional terroirs, which translate into diametrically opposed wines depending on where the grapes come from.

A deeper look into both areas will allow for a better understanding of the influence the terroir has on wine:

Northern Rhône

The northern Rhône wine region is quite small (less than 65 kilometers long) and consequently, it only produces a 5% of all the wines from the area, including big names like the Hermitage AOC or the Condrieu AOC, arguably considered the highest expressions of French Syrah and Viogner, respectively.

The northern Rhône wine region’s distinctive landscape is covered in terraced vineyards clinging to steep hillsides: this setup prevents the soil from eroding and helps retain the warmth of the sun, especially over the hot summer months. Its continental weather (with cold winters and year-round rain) has a clear impact on the terroir of the area which results in some very specific aromas present in its wines: smoky, meaty reds (some even say with “bacon” notes) with a floral touch that they get from the white grapes in the assemblage, like Viognier.

Northern Rhône Valley Wine Map - Wine Paths

The region is mostly known for its world-famous red wines made from Syrah grapes and some exquisite Viogniers but also by a peculiar blend allowed by some AOCs: red and white grapes combined into red wines. A clear example of this is the Côte-Rôtie AOC which wines are red, made with Syrah grapes (red) blended with an up to 20% of Viognier grapes (white). According to the appellation rules, the Syrah and Viognier grapes must be fermented at the same time. Côte-Rôtie literally means “roasted slope” in reference to the many hours of strong sunlight that the steep slopes on which the vineyards are planted receive.

Southern Rhône:

The southern Rhône wine region is larger than its northern neighbor and it is the land of Grenache grapes; acclaimed Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOC wines come from here.

The landscape in the southern Rhône wine region is significantly different than that in the north, as it is mostly plains and gentle slopes. The weather is Mediterranean-influenced with long, warm summers and mild winters. If you see large pebbles around the bases of the vines in this area, don’t be surprised: they are used to absorb the heat from the sun during the day so they can keep the vines warm at night when temperatures often drop dramatically.

Southern Rhône Valley Wine Map - Wine Paths

The infamous “Mistral” wind plays a key role in the climate of the region, as it blows approximately 150 days per year and it can reach speeds of more than 90 km/h, which is only 30 km/h shy of a Category I hurricane. Because the Mistral blows away the dust and makes the air particularly clear, one of its main beneficial effects for the vines is that the moving air can save crops from the spring frost, which can last until the end of April.

Much like in the rest of France, the Rhône Valley wines are classified according to their quality in four levels of AOCs (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée: "Controlled Designation of Origin"):

  • Côtes du Rhône AOC: the lowest level on the hierarchy covers both the northern Rhône wine region and the southern Rhône wine region and it accounts for 50% of the production of Rhône Valley wines. Most are red blends based on Grenache or Syrah.
  • Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC: second level in the classification.
  • Côtes du Rhône (named) Villages AOC: only 18 villages in the Rhône wine region can have their name on the wine label according to the classification rules.
  • The Crus: the best Rhône Valley wines are at the top of the classification. Each one of the 18 distinctive Cru regions represent the perfect expression of their ‘terroir’. There are 8 Crus in the northern Rhône wine region and 10 Crus in the southern Rhône wine region. Here is a non-exhaustive list of the names, most of which will probably ring a bell:


In the Northern Rhône wine region:

  • Hermitage AOC: these world-famous wines come from small vineyards overlooking the village of Tain-l’Hermitage. This hill is considered by many the birthplace of Syrah. The appellation also allows for white wines produced from Roussane and Marsanne grapes.
  • Condrieu AOC: the wines from this appellation are exclusively white, 100% made from Viognier grapes, which are said to have originated in the region.
  • Côte-Rôtie AOC: home to some of the steepest vineyards in all of France. 100% Syrah reds and blended reds of Syrah with up to 20% Viognier.
  • Saint-Péray AOC: four fifths of the wines from this AOC are traditional method sparkling wines made from Marsanne and Roussanne grapes.  


In the Southern Rhône wine region:

  • Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC: the most famous of the Rhône Valley’s appellations is also the first Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée ever; it was recognized when the classification system was created in 1936. The AOC rules for this red wine authorize the use of 13 different grape varieties for the blend (including red and white): Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Clairette, Vaccarèse, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Counoise, Muscardin, Picpoul, Picardan and Terret noir.
  • Beaumes de Venise AOC: famous sweet wine made from Muscat grapes. The vineyards are planted on steep hillsides with man-made terraces of local river rocks called restanque.
  • Rasteau AOC: Grenache-based fortified vin doux (“sweet wine”) that has been produced for hundreds of years.

Sunny weather guaranteed, hot summers, impossibly steep vineyards and some of the best Syrah, Grenache and Viognier wines in the world await you in the Rhône wine region. When are you coming?

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