Rhône

Appellations

Châteauneuf-du-Pape, literally the Pope's new castle, (referring to move of the papal court to Avignon the the 1300s) is a large appellation in the Southern Rhône and is considered the birth place of the Appellation Contrôlee system. In 1923 Baron Le Roy of Ch Fortia had successfully established a strict set of rules for the production of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, including delimiting an area for wine production and setting a minimum alcoholic strength of 12.5%. Reds and whites are produced, but the former is the far bigger of the two. Both colours produce rich, full-bodied heady wines rarely below 13.5 - 14% alcohol, distinctly southern and warm in character. The reds can vary from the hot, stewed or underipe to the rich, powerful, complex and tannic. The red wines can be aged for anything between 5 - 20 years depending on the quality of the individual wine. The sweetness and headiness of red Châteauneuf-du-Papes comes from thre Grenache grape, it makes wines of sweet fruit, high alcohol and light colour. This is the dominant variety. There are increasing amounts of Châteauneuf-du-Papes which are Grenache only. However the classic and most common version is a blend of up to 13 varieties, the main players being Grenache, Syrah (which lends colour complexity and finesse) and Mourvèdre (which also lends colour, complexity, tannic backbone and acidity). The other varieties include the decreasing Cinsault, Counoise - highly thought of for its acidity- and a number of white grapes that can also be blended into the red wines aswell as being used for makings whites, the most important of these are Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, the excellent Clairette and Roussanne.

The vineyard area extends over more than 3000 ha, the chief communes being Châteauneuf-du-Pape itself, Bédarrides, Courthézon, Orange, and Sorgues. The soils differ throughout the appellation from the classic large "Galet" stones which radiate heat to the low-trained old goblet vines, to varying degrees of clay, limestone and sand (the last of these can produce very sensual, silky wines the most famous of example of which would be Rayas.) Winemaking techniques vary from the traditional, all or part of the stalks included in the winemaking, fermentation and ageing in large old wooden foudres, to the more modern de-stalking, tank fermentation and new oak barriques maturation, or a blend of the two. The appellation is big therefore there are plenty of underperformers, however there is also, fortunately, an increasingly large selection of top class producers, including: Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, Beaucastel, Clos des Papes, Domaine de Pegaü, Ch Rayas, Pierre Usseglio, Jean-Paul Versino, Vieux Donjon and Domaine de la Janasse. The best White Châteauneuf-du-Pape usually seems to have a high proportion of Clairette in it, though there is also an excellent single varietal Roussanne made by Beaucastel, the wines are powerful complex but are low in acidity and should usually be drunk in the first three years after the vintage.
An appellation in the Northern Rhône that produces white wine soley from the Viognier grape. Condrieu is situated just south of Côte Rôtie where the river bends and exposes the vineyards to the sun-blanched south. The popularity of this vineyard area waned in the sixties to the point where only 10 ha were planted however this has since rocketed up again to 100 ha, which is still tiny in comparison to most other wine-producing regions. The expansion and revival was due to an increase in quality-led producers growing and bottling their own wine. The area is small, difficult to work and yields are low, all of which conspire to make Condrieu an expensive wine. The north wind is cold and can be devastating so south facing slopes protecting the vines from the north are vitally important. The slopes are very steep so erosion is another problem growers face. Winemaking techniques vary according to producer, whether it be exclusively steel or barrel fermentation and whether to allow the wine to complete its malo or not. Condrieu is the ultimate expression of the Viognier, reaching a complexity and finesse achieved nowhere else in the world. The wine is always a floral, full-bodied one but style can vary from the ripe, unctuous and peachy to the elegant violet-scented and mineral. Among the top producers are Perret, Villard, Vernay and Cuilleron.
An exclusively red wine appellation in the Northern Rhône producing wines made from the Syrah grape variety. A famous appellation back in the 18th century, Cornas' popularity had severly waned by the early 20th century, leaving many vineyards deserted and unkempt. Thankfully its success started to return in the 1980s with the arrival of one or two young ambitious growers. The last ten years have seen an even greater revival in fortunes with a good dozen high quality producers now making wine. The Cornas vineyards are planted on steep granite slopes with a number of different exposures, the resultant wine is usually one of the darkest most inky Syrahs from the Northern Rhône. Some refer to it as a mini Hermitage, though the best examples rival and often surpass the lesser examples of Hermitage. The wines are rich, spicy and sometimes quite burly in their youth so require a good 5-7 years before being approached, the best wines can happily age for at least two decades. The region's flag-bearer since the 1970s has been Auguste Clape, making complex and very traditional style wines. Since the 1980s and 1990s Clape has been joined by several other high quality producers, some of the best of whom are Thierry Allemand, Mathieu Barret of Domaine du Coulet and Vincent Paris.
Côte Rôtie or "Roasted Slope" is a red wine appellation in the far north section of the Northern Rhône, whose revival was started in 1970s by Marcel Guigal and his famed single vineyard wines but whose history starts as far back as the Romans. Settled in the near by town of Vienne it is believed this could be where they first grew vines in Gaul. Plantings have expanded from 70ha in the 60s to well over 200ha today. The vines are east and south east facing, planted on sheer slopes of schist. The vineyards are so treacherously steep that winches are in use in parts. The north wine can whistle through the valley quite visciously here so vines are staked to hold them in place. Theoretically there are two dinstinct zones: The Côte Blonde, where there are ligther yellower soils producing floral feminine wines and the Côte Brune, where darker, heavier soils predominate making for bigger, muscular, savoury wines. However these distinctions are in reality rather blurred both zones offer too much of a marble of soils to allow such great generalisation, a furthermore vine age, winemaking technique and the components within the blend can further complicate things: Growers use varying degrees of new oak or none at all, de-stalk or ferment with whole bunches, can be lightly or heavily extracted and either make a wine 100% from the red Syrah variety or can include up to 20% of the white Viognier in the blend. Wines with a blend of the latter, even in very small proportions, are very distinctly lighter in colour with pungent floral aromas. A classic Côte Rôtie will contain the tiniest proportions of Viognier or none at all, betray ripe red and black fruit flavours together with a distinct peppery spice and a savoury sap or undergrowth quality. The wine would ordinarily be less heavy and rich than those from the due south facing sunbaked Hermitage hill and but typically be more refined and have higher acidity owing to the acidic schistous soils. A good Côte Rôtie should need 5-7 years after the vintage before being approached and age well for a further 15 years at least. In addition to Guigal some excellent examples are made by Clusel-Roch, René Rostaing and Jamet.
Côtes du Rhône is a huge appellation spanning over 40,000 ha of the Rhône valley, ranging from pockets of vineyard skirting the Northern Rhône appellations to the flat, arid plateaux of the Southern Rhône. Most of the production comes from the South from the Grenache grape, however the other Châteauneuf varieties are permitted too. This vast swathe of vine-growing land is as big as AC Bordeaux and makes huge quantities of low-priced wine consumed in brasseries up and down France. Alot of the lower priced wines are made in a similar method to Beaujolais, carbonic or semi-carbonic maceration, which gives light wines of soft tannins and aromatic, but often confected fruit. The quality of these inexpensive wines is usually bland at best, however there are a number of great wine estates from the more solubrious parts of the Rhône, particularly Châteauneuf-du-Pape, who make very good examples at a fraction of the price of their top wines. The vast majority of the production is Red, followed by rosé, very little white wine is produced. All but the wines from the greatest wine-producers are for drinking within 1-3 years after the vintage.
Côtes du Rhône Villages is a higher quality and much smaller appellation than that of Côtes du Rhône, covering more than 5000ha, producing mainly red wine. Yields are lower and the minimum alcoholic strength is 12.5%, the same for that of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Whilst there are vineyards in the northern part of the Rhône, the vast majority are in the south. The Châteauneuf-du-Pape varieties of Grenache Syrah and Mourvedre are the main grapes used and are blended with each other to varying proportions depending on the individual wine. There are some villages that are allowed to add their name to the Côtes du Rhône Villages title: Vinsobres, Rousset-les-Vignes, Rochegude, St-Maurice-sur-Eygues and St-Pantaléon-les-Vignes in the Drôme; Roaix, Séguret, Valréas, Visan, Sablet, Massif d'Uchaux, Plan de Dieu, Puymeras, Cairanne, and Rasteau in Vaucluse, and Laudun, St-Gervais, Chusclan, and Signargues in the Gard. It is possible for these to be elevated to their own Appellation Controlee status, Gigondas was the first to achieve this, followed by Vacqueyras, then in 2005 Beaumes-de-Venise and Vinsobres. Cairanne and Rasteau are thought to be the two next in with a chance. Overall quality is a clear level above that of Côtes du Rhône and is much more consistent. There are a large number of high-quality, artisanal and innovative wine-growing estates in this appellation, together with many fine estates from the grander Châteauneuf-du-Pape region who also have vineyard holdings here. The top wines are to be drunk from 2-4 years after the vintage, but there are several good examples capable of ageing a year or two more than this. The area is, perhaps, one of the greatest value for money sources of red wine in France.
Crozes-Hermitage is the Northern Rhône's biggest appellation covering the rolling hills surrounding Hermitage. Most of the wine is red and made exclusively from Syrah though some very good value whites can be found from the Marsanne and Roussanne grape varieties. Curiously there are only a small band of high quality producers taking advantage of this appellation, among the best would be Graillot, Pochon, Domaine du Colombier and Belle. Jaboulet and the co-operative Cave de Tain dominate much of the land. The reds are lighter than those of Hermitage and softer than those from the vineyards planted accross the river in St Joseph. Here the rich clay limestone soils are less acidic than those of the granite slopes further west, the best wines that result are usually dark, rich, spicy, sturdy wines with reasonably round, pliable textures. The vineyard area spans over 1250ha so quality can be variable, unfortunately. However a good Crozes should drink well after 2-3 years, the best keeping well for 5-7.
A Southern Rhône appellation producing some excellent value red wines similar in style to Châteauneuf-du-Pape based on the Grenache grape, but often blended with Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault. There are just over 1000 ha of vineyard, divided between the sandy soils around the village itself and the higher, later-ripening rugged limestone soils of the stunning the Dentelles de Montmirail hills. The altitude here means that Gigondas is often one of the last areas to be harvested in the South, up to a week later than in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It was the first of the Côtes du Rhône-Villages to be promoted to its own Appellation, in 1971. There are a small handful of growers making very good wine in the village itself, Domaine du Cayron being one of them, in addition may fine growers in nearby Vacqueyras, such as Clos de Cazaux, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, including the Bruniers of Vieux Telegraphe, also make some excellent examples.
Famous hill and appellation in the Northern Rhône, Hermitage is limited to 132ha (about the size of one large Bordeaux property) making long-lived red and white wine, roughly two thirds the former and one third the latter. It was one of the most expensive wines in France during the 18th and 19th Centuries excepting, perhaps, Bordeaux's First Growths, and its wines were often used by Bordeaux and Burgundy producers to strengthen their wines. Hermitage was known to England as far back as the 17th Century when it was quoted in a Thomas Shadwell play. It is a steep south-facing hill that contains a marble of clay and limestone top soils based on granite rock. The hill is split into various vineyards with their own individual terroirs or "climats." These range from the sandy gravel over granite soils of Les Bessards, where some of the hills most muscular wines are made; Le Méal with its high limestone content that produces finer more floral wines, to l'Hermite at the top of the hill with its poor sandy soils with large stones on the surface. Clay dominates the lower-lying vineyards. Other famous sites include Maison Blanche, Péléat, Les Murets, Rocoule, La Croix, and Les Signeaux. White grapes are best suited to the limestone-dominated sites.

The red wines are almost always Syrah even if in theory 15% white grapes can be added, whilst the white wines are made from Marsanne and Roussanne grapes. The reds are the main event here, typically they should be deeply coloured, violet-scented, rich, spicy and long-lived. The best can age over 20-30 years. White wines vary more in style and quality depending where on the hill the grapes are grown, the ageing and the percentage of oak used if at all, the grape blend and how much of the malolactic fermentation is allowed to take place, however they should always be full-bodied and complex. They are famous for going into a bit of a trough at about 4-5 years of bottle age however they do emerge, the finest examples are up their with some of the best, most long-lived whites of France. Chave is particularly renowned for producing whites that are every bit as good as his reds. The hill is dominated by the big houses such as Guigal, Jaboulet and Chapoutier, so there is only ever a finite amount of high quality artisan grower-winemakers. Most people's pick of the bunch is Chave, whose wines are outstanding, however there are some excellent examples also made by Marc Sorrel, Domaine du Colombier, Bernard Faurie and Chapoutier.
Listrac is one of the six communal appellations of the Haut Medoc, and the furthest from the Gironde.
The Northern Rhone is home to some of the world's finest red wines. Appelations such as Hermitage and Cote Rotie have long been favoured by the world's fine wine collectors, conjuring up wonderful images of deeply complex, heady, and robust examples of Syrah. Here, the best wines hail from steep slopes that flank the Rhone, generally over granite soils. These steep vineyards amplify the warm continental climate of the Northern Rhone, radiating and moderating warmth from the river as well as exposing the vines to the cooler breezes carried by the Mistral. This is not without its risks however; on the one hand it helps retain bright, fresh acidities (particularly beneficial in appelations such as Cote Rotie and Condrieu) but too much and flowering can be hampered, coupled with the inevitable risk of soil erosion in vineyards this steep. Combined, these factors make the vineyards notoriously difficult to work, but - done properly - the results speak for themselves: stunning wines inflected with all the hallmarks of great Syrah and Viognier - concentrated fruit, sophisticated spice and minerality, not to mention longevity. Alongside the mighty Hermitage and Cote Rotie, other stars of the Northern Rhone include Cornas, St Joseph and Crozes Hermitage, which together produce some of the most exciting and best value wines in all of France.
A Northern Rhône appellation that produces red wines from the Syrah grape and white wines that can be a blend of Marsanne and Roussanne. Potentially some very good quality wines can be produced on the steep east-facing granite slopes, however the vineyard area was expanded in the 70s and 80s to the less suitable land on the plateau too so the appellation is now a large one and quality can be variable. The vineyard area stretches a long way from Condrieu in the North to near Valence in the south spanning over 900 ha. Tournon, Mauves and St-Jean-de-Muzols are some of the main towns around which the original terraced vineyards of St Joseph were and still are planted. St Joseph Red and white lacks the weight and ripeness of a Hermitage or the complexity of a Côte Rôtie. The average wine is designed for early drinking over 2-3 years after the vintage, being soft and supple in its youth, perhaps less round and smooth than a Crozes-Hermitage but with more acidity. However there are a number of very good producers in the region now that make reds to be drunk 4 - 8 years after the vintage, the best can reach heights very rarely achieved by Crozes-Hermitage and make for excellent value. The whites can be very good too, full-bodied and floral, often with low acidity, so they are usually best drunk within three years of the vintage. Some of the most highly regarded examples of St Joseph come from, Andre Perret, Francois Villard, Pierre Gaillard, Jean-Louis Chave, Coursodon and Gonon.
Vacqueyras is a predominantly red wine-producing appellation in the Southern Rhône, though some whites and rosés can also be found. It was the second of the Côtes du Rhône villages, after Gigondas, to be given its own appellation, in 1990. The blend is usually Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Cinsaut. The vineyard area is about the size of Gigondas, covering nearly 1000ha. Vacqueyras tends to be a very powerful, rich wine, being at a lower altitude than Gigondas, and can be a bit heavier and less aromatic. Nonetheless there are a number of good wines, packed with character that make excellent value for money. Some particularly fine examples are made by Domaine Clos des Cazaux, Domaine de la Monardière and Chateau des Tours.