Rhône

Grape Types

Cabernet Sauvignon is responsible for many of the world's greatest wines and is, arguably, the grandest of all red wine varieties. This thick-skinned, late-ripening variety performs best in the warm, gravelly soils of the Médoc in Bordeaux, usually blended with lesser amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Cabernet Sauvignon is often packed full of cedar, herb and blackcurrant notes. Leaning towards musk, pencil lead and cigar-box in its home region of Bordeaux. Its deep-colour, assertive tannins and affinity with oak allow the wines to improve in bottle over many years if not decades. It is equally capable of producing affordable, everyday reds in regions like the south of France's Pays d'Oc, and countries like Bulgaria and Chile as it is of producing wines with real finesse and class. The best of which come from Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Tuscany and parts of Australia, particularly Margaret River. Latterly, South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina are laying claim to some very good blends and varietals made from Cabernet Sauvignon.
Now widely planted across the world (notably in South Africa), Chenin Blanc is a white grape variety native to the Loire Valley where it produces a range of wine styles; sweet, dry and sparkling with complexity, depth and often longevity. In the middle Loire, Chenin Blanc is used for Anjou, Montlouis, Saumur, Savennieres, Vouvray, and Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume wines.
One of the world's most widely planted grapes, Grenache is a quintessentially Mediterranean red variety which does best as a low yielding bush vine. It produces warm spicy sloe fruit-dominated wines whose ultimate expression is in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the surrounding southern villages. Excellent results can also be found in the Roussillon, parts of the Languedoc, the Vales near Adelaide, and Spain where it is known as Garnacha.
This is a quintessential northern Rhône grape variety, producing full bodied, nutty wines with relatively low acidity. Often blended with the fresher Roussanne to make the dry whites of Crozes Hermitage, St Joseph, Côtes du Rhône and at its best, the rare white Hermitage. It is becoming increasingly popular in the south of France as a blender, on its own as an early drinking Vin de Pays single varietal, as well as in Australia’s Goulburn Valley and California.
Pinot Noir is the classic grape of red burgundy, whose greatest wines are concentrated in the east and south-east-facing clay/limestone hills of Burgundy's Côte d'Or. A notoriously temperamental variety, Pinot Noir has proved difficult to grow in certain climates and soils and will not tolerate over-cropping. The best examples have wonderfully expressive aromas and thrillingly pure bitter sweet red forest fruit and cherry flavours, developing truffle and game overtones with age. Outside of Burgundy, Pinot Noir has had great success in New Zealand, California’s Carneros, Oregon and the more marginal, cooler districts in Australia. Along with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir is also one of the major components of Champagne.
A noble white Rhône grape variety blended with Marsanne to produce Crozes-Hermitage, St Joseph and Hermitage, as well as being a component of white Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The grape can make wines that boast extraordinary class, finesse, with fine acidity demonstrating greengage fruit characteristics. Usually unoaked, Roussanne can support some barrel ageing but only when the wood is old. Found rarely on its own the most famous example is the glorious, long-lived Roussanne Vielles Vignes of Beaucastel.
The great red grape of the northern Rhône where it reaches its optimum levels in the violet-scented muscular wines of Hermitage and the graceful sappy Côte Rôties, which in the latter case is sometimes blended with Viognier. The wines of Cornas are renowned as producing Syrah-based wines very close in quality to Hermitage, while St Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage also represent some good value examples. It is also a component of many southern Rhône reds, namely Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. As Shiraz, it is Australia's most important red variety, found in various guises from ripe fruit-forward commercial wines to intense concentrated old vine cuvees such as Grange and those of Clarendon Hills. In the best instances Syrah/Shiraz produces deep, spicy, age-worthy wines.
Most famous for the unique Condrieu wines of the Northern Rhone, the best exponents being Andre Perret, Francois Villard, Clusel-Roch and Rene Rostaing, Viognier is a white grape variety widely planted in Southern France for varietal Vin de Pays wines or to use in blends. It is now also being grown in Australia and California for blending with Syrah in deference to the practices in Cote Rotie, where up to 20% of Viognier is allowed to be added to Syrah to add an extra perfume to the wine.