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Exploring the two worlds of Rhone wine

7th November 2014 Print

The Rhone Valley is one of France’s key wine growing regions, but if you think that all Rhone Valley wines are similar, you’d better think again! The region is divided into two areas – North and South – each serving up wines so different and full of variety, you’d think they were worlds apart geographically. Often ranked amongst the world’s greatest wines, we’re exploring this diverse region further. 

The North vs South Debate

98% of wines produced in the Rhone Valley are of the red or rose variety, but you will also find a scattering of whites here and there for good measure. Though the regions are very close geographically speaking, the differences between North and South couldn’t be more apparent with each offering a different climate, soil and grape varietals. 

The steep, terraced hillsides of the Northern Rhone combined with its granite, stone, clay and shingle soil actually only lend themselves well to produce a few grape varietals – namely Viognier and Syrah – and sells single varietal wines, whereas the flatness of the Southern Rhone allows for a better variation and more blends. Despite this, and the smaller size of the Northern Rhone (it actually makes up less than 10% of the Rhone Valley) you’ll typically find that wines produced here are of much better quality. As the vines are located closer to the river, they benefit from a continental climate, better exposure to sunlight and shelter from the mistral winds. Everything is also done by hand here, as it’s difficult to operate machines on the terraced landscape. 

Wines of the Northern Rhone

Northern Rhone offers six types of wine, each offering very different flavours. Making use of Syrah, Marsanne and Roussanne, Saint-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage and Hermitage typically offer high quality, and Hermitage was once known as ‘the wine of the world’. Like the leathery, earthy Cornas which is exclusive to the North, Hermitage should be left in the cellar for ten years. Next up is Condrieu, which only allows the use of Viognier grapes for its fruity notes of honey and peach.

For a more decadent choice, Côte Rôtie (‘roasted slope’) is made with Syrah and offers notes of spice, coffee, raspberry, truffles, violet and chocolate. As you’d expect, this is one of the more expensive choices. 

Wines of the Southern Rhone

Though the wines of the Northern Rhone are renowned for being better quality, the Southern Rhone’s offerings definitely shouldn’t be discounted. One of these options is Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation, which grows Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Clairette, Grenache Blanc and Cinsault. Producing reds that are considered the epitome of the Southern Rhone, the flavours here tend to be dense, bold and earthy – a stark contrast to the typical sweet, easy-drinking wines that the Mediteranean is famous for.  

The largest appellation of the Rhone is the Côtes du Rhône which makes up around 4/5 of the region. Though famous for dry wines, you can actually find a large variety of terroirs and qualiti8es because this is such a spread out area. Some of your best bets here include Rasteau, Château de Beaucastel and Jean-Luc Colombo.

Finally, it is important to not discount the once stalwart of the 1970’s home dining revolution, Muscat Beaumes de Venise – the collection displayed in this link offers options you can savour. Recently, however, a more recent phenomenon has taken centre stage, the Beaumes de Venise Rouge version – a welcomed stunner I’m sure many of you will appreciate after a long hard week.