We see an increasing number of wineries in our area producing “Rhône blends,” so let’s explore this area of the French countryside.
The Rhône wine region in Southern France is situated in the Rhône river valley and produces numerous wines under various Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) designations. The region’s major appellation in production volume is Côtes du Rhône AOC.
The Rhône is generally divided into two sub-regions with distinct viticultural traditions; these are the Northern Rhône and the Southern Rhône. The northern sub-region produces red wines from the Syrah grape, sometimes blended with white wine grapes (usually Viognier, Marsanne or Roussanne), and white wines from Viognier grapes.
It wasn’t long ago that the myth persist that Syrah grapes were brought to the Northern Rhone by the Greeks from the Persian city of Shiraz. Extensive DNA typing and viticultural research, however, has led scientists to the firm conclusion that Syrah originated in the Rhone region itself. That notwithstanding, Syrah is today widely known as Shiraz throughout much of the English-speaking world.
The various AOC wines of the Rhône Valley region are produced by more than 6,000 vineyards including 1,837 private wineries and 103 cooperatives. Last year, the Rhone valley produced 450 million bottles of wine.
The Northern Rhône, pictured on direct left, is characterized by a continental climate with harsh winters but warm summers. Its climate is influenced by the cool “Mistral” wind, which means that the mix of grape varieties and wine styles is different from the south. Northern Rhône reds are often identified by their signature aromas of green olive and smoky bacon.
The Southern Rhône, pictured on right, sub-region has a more Mediterranean climate with milder winters and hot summers. Drought can be a problem in the area, but limited irrigation is permitted. The differing terriors, together with the rugged landscape which partly protects the valleys from the Mistral, produce microclimates which give rise to a wide variety of wines.
The southern Rhône’s most famous red wine is Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a blend containing up to 13 varieties of wine grapes (eight red and five white) as permitted by the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC rules.