Although the Rhône region produces white wines, it is better known for its reds. The wines of the Rhône will satisfy all tastes and budgets, whether you are looking for easy-to-enjoy, immediately accessible wines or cellar worthy, collectible wines. As I have mentioned in the past, my favourite French wines are produced in the Rhône.
The wines are divided into four levels of quality:
Côtes du Rhône AOC
The Côtes du Rhône appellation was established in 1937, and its wines are among the most popular in all of France. It accounts for 50% of the valley’s production and is considered as the ‘entry level’ classification. Most are red blends based on Grenache or Syrah and the vineyards are planted on a variety of different soils. Production rules are not as strict as other levels but wines must have a minimum of 11% alcohol and be made from the 21 sanctioned grape varieties.
These wines are easy drinking, and pair well with a variety of different foods so are perfect for every day. The white blends and rosés are equally delicious but may be harder to find.
Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC
The Côtes du Rhône-Villages appellation was created in 1966 and represents the next tier on the quality ladder. Wines from here have more body and a spiced red-fruit character.
The village wines are a bit more complex with lower yields and slightly higher alcohol. These wines are great for aging.
Côtes du Rhône (named) Villages AOC
Twenty-one villages are allowed to indicate their village name on the label. In order to include the village name, the winery must comply with stricter requirements than for the Côtes du Rhône Villages. Those villages are:
- Massif d’Uchaux
- Plan de Dieu
- Vaison la Romaine
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the most famous Rhône region and one of the oldest in France. It was established in 1936, but its official boundaries were drawn up in 1919.
The wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape display great fruit freshness, black pepper, spice, earth and garrigue (a French term for the wild hillside vegetation of the Mediterranean Coast).
The vineyards are planted with 14 varietals at four levels of altitude as the land rises up from the Rhone River.
The most plentiful reds include Grenache and Cinsault, with Mourvedre, Syrah and other sanctioned reds producing wines that are full and aromatic with spicy dark fruits balanced with acidity and minerality.
Whites make up only 6% of production but are worth trying. They speak of the warm southern climate – honeysuckle, stone fruits and melon, backed with refreshing minerality.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are usually pricier than other Rhône wines, with prices starting in the $50 range. However, there are some much less expensive Rhône wines that are equally as enjoyable. But if you are seeking a more collectable or cellarable wine, Châteauneuf-du-Pape provides some great choices.