The Rhone region is a major wine-producing area located in the Rhone River Valley of southern France, between the cities of Vienne and Avignon. It’s home to over 170,000 acres of vineyards and produces approximately 450 million bottles of wine annually. Although it is considered one region, it is generally divided into the northern Rhone and the southern Rhone. Each region possesses a variety of microclimates, an array of soil types, different terrains, and distinct styles of wine.
The northern Rhone region is characterized by its extremely steep slopes and vines cultivated on surfaces that can be almost vertical. It has a climate best described as continental, with warm summers and severe winters. The region is mainly noted for its production of complex and powerful red wines, capable of extensive aging, generally produced in limited quantities, and considered by many to be some of the greatest in the world. The Syrah grape is the primary red grape varietal planted, but white wine grape varietals including Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussane are cultivated as well.
While the northern Rhone accounts for 5% of the region’s total wine production, it is the southern Rhone that is responsible for an enormous 95% of the total wine produced. The terrain here varies from steep mountain peaks to broad valley flats with a Mediterranean climate of mild winters and brutally hot summers. Because the southern region possesses such an array of landscapes, a large number of grape varietals are cultivated and a variety of winemaking styles are used. The main varietals planted here are Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Cinsaut for reds, and Grenache Blanc, Picpoul, Roussane, and Marsanne for whites. The region is mainly known for it’s blends and its less expensive Cote du Rhone wines. These wines are typically light and easy drinking with varying quality.
Grapevines were likely first cultivated in the Rhone region in 600 BC.
The vineyards of the northern Rhone are some of the steepest and most challenging to work in the world. These vineyards are mostly family-owned and experienced winemakers have hand picked grapes here for decades.
The most famous and noteworthy wine of the southern Rhone region is Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a blend consisting of up to 18 varieties of grapes as permitted by the AOC laws. The predominant grape used is normally Grenache at close to 80 to 90%. Chateauneuf-du-Pape translates to “The Popes New Castle.”
In the southern Rhone region, it is common to place large pebbles called “galets” at the bases of the vines to absorb the sun’s heat during the day in order to keep the vines warm during the night when the temperature often drops significantly.
The Cotes Du Rhone appellation is often associated with the southern Rhone but it actually encompasses the northern region as well. It stretches over 125 miles.
Tavel is an appellation in the Rhone region that is the only appellation in France permitted to solely produce rose wines. Red or white wines from this appellation cannot be legally labeled as Tavel.