Learning France’s Rhône wines
In 2007, Wine Spectator Magazine named the Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2005 the wine of the year. But this certainly wasn’t the first time the Rhone region gained acclaim for its wines: the land has been producing wines since around 600 B.C. The following are some quick notes to familiarize yourself with the Rhone region. Enjoy!
Location: the 124 mile long Rhône Valley, named for the Rhône River that runs through it, is split into two parts: Northern Rhône and Southern Rhône. These two areas produce two distinctly different wines using different grapes.
Grapes: The main red wine grape of the Northern Rhône is Syrah and the main white wine grape is Viognier while the main red grapes of Southern Rhône are Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah. The region’s most famous dessert wine, made from Muscat grapes, is called Beaumes-de-Venise.
Terroir/Climate: The famous wind that affects the humidity of the area (and therefore, grape quality) is called the Mistral. The region’s soil contains limestone, clay and rolled stones, depending on the area.
Major Producers: Most of the wines produced in the Rhône come from two appellations, the Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Villages.
Perhaps the most famous region is the Châteauneuf-du-Pape an appellation that is considered the southern Rhône’s quality leader. Red wines from this region can be made from up to 8 permitted grapes, such as Grenache and Mourvèdre, and white wines can use up to 6 permitted grapes, including as Grenache Blanc and Clairette.
Wine characteristics: As mentioned above, the Rhône regions comprise two very distinct grape-growing areas. The vineyards of the steep northern Rhône valley produce Syrah-based wines best known for pepper, sturdy fruit and sometimes tar and smoke flavors. Production–although small–has gained worldwide acclaim.
The warmer southern Rhône produces wines based primarily on fruity Grenache blended with Syrah and other red grapes. Sensational rosé is also grown in the southern Rhone. The wines tend to be higher in acidity than their counterparts from the North.
Wine pairings: Pair red Northern Rhône wines with full-flavored game, roasted or grilled meats, and stews. White Northern Rhône wines pair well with rich sauces, white poultry, and some shellfish.
Southern Rhône reds are also quite weighty: pair them with full-flavored stews, game, and red meat, and avoid spicy heat because the high alcohol content (from the Grenache) will seem even hotter.