Variety in the Rhone Valley

From Vienne to Avignon, the varieties vary. The Rhone Valley produces some of the most widely recognized blends. Beginning in Roman times, the region became synonymous with quality wines. Wine ranging from those worthy of Popes to those you can open on a Monday, just because.

French labels can be confusing, intimidating even. If you don’t know the region, the signature grapes and style, the label won’t give you too many clues about what you’re buying. So let’s break it down.

Wines from the Rhone Valley can be labeled with simply Côtes du Rhône or, if the wine is of a certain status, the specific village from which it hails.

The region is commonly divided geographically, Northern and Southern. The wines are divided into four categories. In ascending order, Côtes du Rhônes AOC, Côtes du RhônesVillages AOC, then Côtes du Rhônes with a specific village named, then Cru. There are 8 Cru designations in the North, 9 in the South. These are named by the specific appellation.

Once you’ve got that down, you can get a general idea of what you’ll be consuming by whether it is Northern or Southern. The North is known for whites like Condrieu (Viognier) and Syrah, most famously Hermitage. In the South, you get warmer climates, warmer wines. Grenache reigns, often dominating blends. You’ll find plenty of Mourvèdre and Syrah, some Carignan and Cinsault. The biggest, oldest name being a blend, Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

While some of the Cru wines can get pretty pricey, there are plenty of options for those of us without papal connections. I recently sampled three Cru wines, two from the South and one white from the North.

Pop quiz: Can you guess the grapes?

{These wines were sent as media samples. Thoughts and opinions are my own.}

The 2015 E. Guigal Condrieu ($45) was a classic representation of the region. Grown on granite hillsides, the wine went through malolactic fermentation, a third fermented and matured in new barrels. The wine’s nose was rich, spicy and floral. Dried apricot and pears, honeysuckle, browned sugar, viscous mouthfeel, bright minerality, baking spices and candied lemon peel in finish. This is a wine with enough body and acidity to pair with richer dishes.

Domaine de Beaurenard Rasteau ($15) of 2015 is 80% Grenache, 20% Syrah. Hand-harvested, fermented with wild yeasts, and 12 month in vats and oak foudres. Warm black fruits, cherry, rose petals, cedar box. Medium tannins and lower acid. This wine could be paired in many directions.

Ten years ago, the Frey family purchased the vineyard and began biodynamic and sustainable practices. Paul Jaboulet Aîné Beaumes de Venise “Le Paradou” 2015 ($16)is made from grapes grown in the limestone soils, aged in tapered vats. 75% Grenache, 25% Syrah, the wine is red and black fruits, floral notes, earthy spice, medium body and acidity. Another wine that could be happy at a wide array of meals.

While the region has been producing wines for 2,000 years, they may still be new to you. Especially, if like me, you’ve been intimidated looking at the labels. A vast array of grapes and styles, varied price points, and easily paired wines make this a region worthy of exploration. For more information on the region, visit rhone-wines.com.

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Being a stay- at-home mom can leave one thirsting for a taste of the outside world, a world in which sentences are composed of more than three words. Being an educator means one is always seeking an opportunity to explore and learn. Being a woman with a need to connect can be a challenge when adult conversations are rare. In wine, I find the marriage of art and science, agriculture and storytelling provides limitless areas to explore. But it is the people that keep me engaged. The tenacity needed to keep the family dream alive, the risk to start anew, the trials and principles. I love the history of the vine, the impact of a season, the sentiment in the bottle. That is why I write. I write to tell their stories, to share a piece of mine. I write to learn as I teach others. I write to connect with new friends, to disconnect from the world. I write to celebrate what makes each of us unique, and that which ties us together.

4 thoughts on “Variety in the Rhone Valley

  1. This is a very excellent post. You really make it very simple for the novice wine drinker to get an introduction of the wines of the region.

    The rasteau that you tasted ( excellent tasting notes) is one of my favorite wines. The village designated cotes du rhone provide some amazing value.

    Liked by 1 person

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