Photo: Christophe Grilhe
The Rhône Valley in Southern France is the second largest wine-growing region in ‘la Métropole,’ covering an expansive 167,112 vineyard acres and stretching from Vienne in the north all the way to the Mediterranean Sea in the south. Though few of us are currently able to visit personally at this time, armchair travelers can easily delight in this bucolic part of the world via its wines.
The region’s reds shift from savory Syrahs with notes of pepper and dark fruits, to versatile Grenache-dominant varietals that combine a berry character with rich earthiness. Rosé and white wines also thrive here; the rosés are known for their refreshing red berry flavors and bright character and the whites for their lively structure and floral notes.
Photo: Bernard Favre
The heart of this verdant land is the mighty Rhône river, wide and serene and featuring a network of tributaries that feed the hillsides and valley vineyards. Large geological changes throughout history have deepened the river bed, helping to form picturesque terraces of varying soil types on both banks. These soil types form a composition that promotes a distinct typicity to the area’s wines, allowing each grape’s character to shine. The Northern Rhône features slightly cooler temperatures, scenic hilltops, and steep terraces. In the northern town of Vienne, the Romans planted vineyards and constructed retaining walls for the terraces, a planting structure and practice still in use today. Thanks to the river, the Romans established a flourishing wine trade due to the ability to easily move product.
Photos: Christophe Grilhe
As the river runs through the central valley and into the Southern Rhône, a warm Mediterranean climate is tempered by distinctive Mistral winds that waft throughout valleys, hillsides, and olive tree groves. Before the delta of the river is the famous ‘Pont Saint-Bénézet’ Avignon bridge. Avignon features the Popes’ Palace, a stunning 14th century medieval fortress. Wines from the Rhône Valley are known as the ‘wines of the popes,’ as papal leaders of this time tended to favor the region’s wines.
Interested in a virtual ‘visit’ by way of vinous exports? Give these a try; each beautifully and deliciously illustrates the impact of the Rhône River on the region:
Photo: Fran Miller
E. Guigal Brune et Blonde Côte-Rôtie Rouge 2016. The Guigal estate was founded in 1946 by Etienne Guigal in Ampuis, a small ancient village and cradle of the Côte Rôtie appellation. Though the family’s holdings have grown considerably since, the estate is not far from the first few square feet where Etienne Guigal first labored. Today, a third-generation acts as guardians of E. Guigal. This blend is well-balanced and precise, offering classic Côtie Rôtie aromatics of cherry, herbs and smoked bacon, with a rich and complex palate of raspberries and olives and a hint of smoke.
Domaine Le Colombier Vieilles Vignes Vacqueyras Rouge 2018. The Mourre family has been producing wines in the Southern Rhône since 1963 from Vacqueyras, Côtes du Rhône, and Ventoux; some vines date to 1902. This wine is ruby red in color and chock full of cocoa, herbs, and red and dark fruit aromas. The palate is layered with notes of spice, black cherry, and licorice, giving way to a lengthy finish.
Andre Brunel Cuvée Sabrine Côtes du Rhône Villages Rouge 2016. The Brunel family’s winemaking history dates to the 17th century with the purchase from the Bishop of Avignon a vineyard plot north of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellations. On the nose, this wine displays spiced cherry, minerality, and herbs. It is full-bodied with concentrated red fruit flavors. Tannins are elegant and balanced.
Delas Fréres Chante Perdrix Cornas Rouge 2015. Founded more than 180 years ago in the heart of the northern Rhône, Delas Frères is currently located in Saint-Jean-de Muzols, a small village north of Tournon, and the winery is set amidst the vineyards of St. Joseph. The wines are crafted by winemaker Jacques Grange and his team of experts who focus on creating flavorful wines at an excellent value. With an intense garnet red color, the Chante Perdrix boasts a well-structured palate with subtle tannins and notes of blackcurrant and minerality. With age, this wine develops flavors of pepper and licorice.
À votre santé!