understanding wine regions

Rhone Rangers

The name Chateauneuf-du-Pape for British wine drinkers is synonymous with top-shelf red wine, however there’s a lot more to the Rhone Valley than this one illustrious wine.

While Burgundy and Bordeaux are renowned for their quality, the Rhone has a hell of a lot to offer and often without the price-tag attached to the other two.

Let’s delve a little deeper and discover what else this region has to offer…


The Rhone valley runs down south of Lyon in France following the river Rhone towards the Mediterranean. It’s split into two parts – the north and the south. Geographically there’s only about an hour’s drive between the two parts, but in reality it makes a world of difference to the climate and even which grapes are grown. So many producers in the Rhone that I have spoken to expressed the point of view that actually the two parts of the Rhone are in fact are so distinct they should really be classed as two separate regions.

 The North

Here steep hillsides hug the river, with a cool wind called the Mistral that is pulled down through the valley contributing to a cool, continental climate. As a result of only hardy grapes can be grown here, and they will generally stand alone rather than be mixed with others.

GRAPES: Syrah (also known as Shiraz) and the aromatic white grape variety Viognier.


As we are firmly in Old World territory then, of course, it’s not as easy as picking up the bottle and reading the label. In the France they name their wines after the place that it comes from. Here’s list of some of the more famous examples that you might come across:

Cote Rotie (red wine only)
Saint Joseph
Cornas (red wine only)
Condrieu (white wine only)

What will they taste like? Well the reds are full of bramble fruit character and often have more than a bit of spicy character particularly white pepper. The whites are generally rich, full-bodied and peachy especially those from Condrieu.

Southern Rhone

The South

An hour’s drive south and the landscape completely transforms, opening up into flat lands that are baked by the sun and have a distinctly Mediterranean influence. This warmth changes the grape mix too, and blending becomes an art form with a total or 13(!) permitted grape varieties which can be used to make Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Most of the other blends are a little more restrained though, with an average of three grape varieties.

BLACK GRAPES: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre

WHITE GRAPES: Viognier, Marsanne, Rousanne

As well as red and white, they make some pretty serious rose down here such as Tavel and some fortified, sweet wines too like Muscat de Beaumes de Venise.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape is by far the most famous of these wines, but there are many others too such as:

Cote du Rhone
Cote du Rhone Villages

How do these wines differ from those you find in the north? Well, first of all alcohol plays a much bigger part in these wines, especially those of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The reds are robust, spicy and have lovely combination of red and black fruit flavour. Often they can even be described as being a little bit leathery – and that’s definitely meant in a complimentary sense.

The whites are often a little lighter and fresher than their northern counterparts due to the grapes they blend in with the Viognier.

If you haven’t been exposed to many wines from the Rhone before – get stuck in! You could be missing out of a great bargain on some fantastic wines.

6 thoughts on “Rhone Rangers

  1. I am typically a French wine snob–when given the choice, I almost always opt for a French wine over a domestic counterpart. I have a tough time with the Rhône, however (with the notable exception of Condrieu and the über-Condrieu, Château Grillet). Most of the time, Rhône wines either are far too green or overly stewed. When I do find the wine that falls wonderfully between those two, I am quite happy–but they are very hard to find….

Leave a Reply