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  ABC Wine Issue 28, March 2005   
Rhône ValleyRhône Valley  Contents 
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Rhône Valley

The famous French wine region, reference model for Syrah wines, is mainly renowned in the world for its red wines, however even whites can be surprising

 Whenever in the world of wine black pepper is mentioned, the association with Syrah grape is practically immediate, but more directly the association is with wines produced with Syrah grape in the Rhône Valley. It is because of this grape most of the wines produced in the northern area of this French region get their success, a success which is shared with its “antagonists” typical of the souther part: Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre. For many years shadowed by the notoriety of the neighboring Bourgogne and Bordeaux regions, the recent success of Rhône Valley's wines begins at the end of 1980's. Wine lovers understood from that region, until then considered as a source of good robust and rustic wines, was capable of offering very good products that could compete fearlessly with the renowned wines from Bourgogne and Bordeaux and - a factor not to be forgotten - with a very low prices, at least at those times. Today Rhône Valley is considered among the greatest French wine regions and appreciated by everyone for its wines, in particular red ones.


Rh\^one Valley
Rhône Valley

 Rhône Valley takes its name from the homonymous river originating from Swiss Alps, enters the French territory and ends its course in the Mediterranean sea near the city of Marseille. The region is divided in two parts, Northern Rhône Valley and Southern Rhône Valley, ideally divided by a stripe of territory of about 50 kilometers (about 30 miles). Of the two areas, the northern part certainly is the most renowned one, as here are found two of the main appellations of the whole region: Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage. The wines of this region have been the main responsible which allowed Rhône Valley to get recognizability and to compete with the most famed products from Bourgogne and Bordeaux. Rhône Valley is not red wine only. In recent times this region had the merit to catch the attention of the world to an interesting white berried grape - Viognier - thanks to the products of the Condrieu area, which includes the smallest AOC area of France and with an acreage of little more than three hectares: Château-Grillet (about 7.5 acres).

 The Rhône Valley's areas do not represent a geographical division only, they also define two precise wine making styles. In the northern area wines are usually produced with one type of grape only, whereas in the southern part wines produced by assembling more grapes are more common. In other words in northern Rhône Valley it is a single variety to be emphasized, whereas in the southern area it is the blend of many expressions, such as in case of the renowned Châteauneuf-du-Pape in which can even be used 13 different types of grapes, both reds and whites. Rhône Valley certainly is the French area in which are being cultivated the highest number of grape varieties and used for the production of AOC wines. Among white berried grapes, the mainly cultivated ones are: Bourboulenc, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, Picardan, Picpoul, Roussanne, Ugni Blanc and Viognier. Among red berried grapes are mentioned Calitor, Carignan, Cinsaut, Counoise, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Muscardin, Syrah, Terret Noir and Vaccarèse.

 

Classification of Rhône Valley

 The wine area of Rhône Valley is recognized by the French quality system as AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, Appellation of Controlled Origin). The whole area is divided in two parts - defined as Northern (Vallée du Rhône Nord or Septentrionale) and Southern (Vallée du Rhône Sud or Méridionale), separated in the center by an area near the city of Montélimar of about 50 kilometers (about 30 miles), in which the presence of vineyards is pretty limited. The wine production of the whole region is mainly oriented to red wines - a style of wine which made Rhône Valley renowned worldwide - however the region also produces white wines, as well as rose and sweet wines. The main AOC areas defined in the northern part are: Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Côte-Rôtie, Cornas, St.-Joseph, Condrieu and Château-Grillet. Among the AOC appellations of the southern part are mentioned: Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Côtes-du-Rhône, Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages, Beaumes-de-Venise and Tavel.

 

Northern Rhône Valley

 The Northern Rhône Valley certainly is the most representative and renowned area of the region. In fact it is right here which are found the prestigious appellations of Hermitage, Côte-Rôtie, Cornas, Condrieu and Château-Grillet, an appellation exclusively oriented to the production of white wines with Viognier grape with an acreage of 3.4 hectares (8.4 acres). With the exception of Condrieu and Château-Grillet appellations - the only ones in which are exclusively produced white wines - in this area the wine production mainly is about red wines with Syrah grape, the indisputable protagonist of vineyards in the Northern Rhône Valley. As opposed to the southern part, here the enological production favors the exaltation of mono varietals wines, a characteristic which is more frequent in red wines than in whites. The main white berried grapes of the area are Marsanne and Roussanne - usually used together in the production of wines - and Viognier, a grape which is getting an increasing interest even in the vineyards of the rest of the world.

 

Côte-Rôtie

 Côte-Rôtie certainly is one of the most representative areas of the Rhône Valley and here are exclusively produced red wines with Syrah grape only, particularly renowned for their intense black pepper aromas. The best vineyards in Côte-Rôtie - literally roasted hillside - are cultivated in steep hillsides with an inclination which can also reach 60° and an exposition towards south. Inside the Côte-Rôtie are found two famous production areas: Côte Brune and Côte Blonde, the first one characterized by a dark colored soil and the second one with a light colored soil. Legend has this two hillsides were named in honor of the two daughters of a local feudal lord, one being brunette and the other blonde. Wines produced in these two areas usually mention in the label the hillside of origin. Wines from Côte Brune generally are more tannic and robust, whereas the ones from Côte Blonde are more elegant and refined. Despite wines produced in Côte-Rôtie are all red, the production disciplinary allows the use of a white berried grape - Viognier - with a maximum quantity of 20%, however most of the producers rarely use a quantity higher than 5%. Viognier adds exotic aromas to Syrah and also contributes to smooth some rustic characters of this grape.

 

Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage

 The other protagonist for red wines in Northern Rhône Valley certainly is Hermitage. Just like in Côte-Rôtie, the best vineyards in Hermitage are cultivated in the hillsides exposed towards south. Even in this area the grape used for red wines is Syrah capable of making - in the best years - robust wines with rich and complex aromas. In red wines is also allowed the use of white berried grapes Marsanne and Roussanne, up to a percentage of 15%. In this area is also produced white wine - Hermitage Blanc - with grapes Marsanne, responsible for the body, and Roussanne, responsible for elegant aromas. To the feet of Hermitage hill is found the Crozes-Hermitage area in which are being produced red and white wines with the same grapes used for Hermitage. Crozes-Hermitage wines do not have the character and strength of the ones from Hermitage, anyway good productions are also found here.

 

Saint-Joseph and Cornas

 Saint-Joseph is a pretty large wine area which is located in the left bank of the Rhône river. This appellation was recognized in 1956 and - at those times - the fame of its wines was pretty high. Today the territory of Saint-Joseph AOC borders the Condrieu area to the north, and Cornas to the south, and it is the largest wine area of northern Rhône Valley. This expansion has influenced the quality of wines with the result of a pretty varied production, from almost anonymous wines to robust wines. Red wines of this area are produced with Syrah - to which is allowed a small quantity of white grapes - whereas white wines are produced with Marsanne and small quantities of Roussanne. A very different scenery is the one in Cornas. Its extension is pretty limited and here are exclusively produced red wines with Syrah grape, pretty robust and with complex aromas. The secret for appreciating Cornas wines is time. Generally speaking, these wines need period of aging from 7 to 10 years, a time capable of making them very elegant, in particular in the aromas.

 

Condrieu and Château-Grillet

 Condrieu is the indisputable homeland of Viognier grape, not only in the Rhône Valley, but also in the world. The Condrieu wine area is located in the upper area of Northern Rhône Valley and it includes the smallest of AOC areas of about 3.4 hectares of extension: Château-Grillet. This small appellation actually belongs to the homonymous producer famous worldwide for the class and the elegance of its white wines produced with Viognier grape. The production of Condrieu is exclusively about white wines characterized by aromas of exotic fruits, flowers and ripe fruits, a characteristic Viognier grape is mainly capable of expressing in these areas.

 

Southern Rhône Valley

 Whether Northern Rhône Valley's wines are mainly identifiable by the name of a grape, in Southern Rhône Valley the conditions drastically change and the result is always the expression of a blend of grapes. Despite the number of grapes used in this region is pretty high, some of them play an important and main role and identifies - as a matter of fact - the wines of Southern Rhône Valley. Among the main red berried grapes are found Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre and Cinsaut, whereas in white berried grapes the main role is played by Grenache Blanc, Clairete and Bourboulenc. The main reference area of this region certainly is Châteauneuf-du-Pape with its renowned red wines, however also in other areas are being produced good value wines, in particular in the village of Beaume-de-Venise in which is produced an enchanting vin doux naturel with Muscat Blanc grape.

 

Châteauneuf-du-Pape


 

 Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the most renowned wine area of Southern Rhône Valley which is located few kilometers north from the city of Avignon. This area is particularly renowned for its red wines in whose composition can be used even 13 different varieties of grapes, both reds and whites. Indeed the exact number of grapes allowed is 14 as Grenache Blanc generally is considered as Grenache, the name with which is called the homonymous and important red berried grape. The red berried grapes allowed for the production of red Châteauneuf-du-Pape are Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsaut, Muscardin, Counoise, Vaccarèse and Terret Noir, whereas the white grapes are Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Picpoul and Picardan. Despite the number of varieties is so high, it is good to remember most of producers use a lesser number and most of the wines are made of Grenache Noir. Red wines produced in this area are famous for their personality of aromas and for their body, a characteristic which is found in the best quality wines. Besides red wines, at Châteauneuf-du-Pape are also produced a marginal quantity of white and rose wines. A curiosity about the red wines of this area is that here - as opposed to the rest of France and of the world - the use of cask is pretty limited in favor of cement containers.

 

Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Tavel and Beaumes-de-Venise

 The main wine areas of Southern Rhône Valley in which are produced red wines include Gigondas and Vacqueyras. Red wines produced at Gigondas are mainly made from Grenache Noir to which is added Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsaut. Gigondas wines generally are robust and with pretty rustic characters in which emerge aromas of red berried fruits and spices. Wines from Vacqueyras are mainly produced with Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsaut, however in most of cases the main representative grape in term of quantity is Syrah. Vacqueyras wines are pretty rustic and robust in which are found aromas of red and black berried fruits, spices and aromatic herbs. Tavel is famous for its high quality rose wines with good personality, worth representatives of this underrated category. Tavel's rose wines are produced with red and white berried grapes, however the main component is Grenache Noir. Rose wines from Tavel are famous for their spicy aromas, a pretty rare quality in this style of wines. Beaumes-de-Venise is renowned for its excellent vin doux naturel produced with the grape Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, rich in aromas of musk, peach, apricot, melon and orange.

 

Côtes-du-Rhône and Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages

 Wines from the appellation Côte-du-Rhône AOC represent about 75% of the total wine produced in the Rhône Valley and the grapes used for their production come from a pretty vast area which extends in the whole territory of the region and of which the most representative one is located near the city of Avignon. The main production is about red and rose wines - about 90% - generally produced with Grenache Noir, however even the grapes Carignan, Counoise, Mourvèdre, Terret Noir and Syrah are used in their production as well. The quality of these wines is pretty vast, from ordinary wines to very good quality wines. Wines from Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages generally have a higher quality and can be produced in one of the 96 villages defined by the production disciplinary. Of these 96 villages is however appropriate to observe that only 16 are considered having a higher quality and only 5 of them are further considered the best: Beaume-de-Venise, Cairanne, Rasteau, Sablet and Séguret. Wines produced in these 16 villages can be recognized by the fact their name in the label always precedes the appellation of the area, such as, for example, Cairanne Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages.

 




 Editorial  Share this article   Share on Google+   Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 28, March 2005   
Rhône ValleyRhône Valley  Contents 
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