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Rhône wine - the beginner’s guide | Drizly

Way down south, in a steep, sloping valley between the Languedoc and Provence, lies a terrain brimming with flowery viognier, syrah, and more juicy grenache than your tastebuds could ever imagine. This region we speak of literally does it all; affordable reds, thirst-quenching whites, chuggable rosés, and some of the most renowned (and pricey) bottles of viognier and syrah in the entire world. Welcome to the Rhône Valley, your go-to region for the some of the best bottles that the South of France has to offer.

The easiest way to break down the Rhône Valley is by one simple separation: Northern Rhône and Southern Rhône. The valley itself begins around the city of Vienne, approximately 20 miles south of Lyon, and continues all the way down to Avignon, making the entire valley about 125 miles from top to bottom. (Note: A 30 mile gap separates the Northern Rhône from the Southern Rhône.)

In total, the Rhône Valley produces over 100 million gallons of wine per year - so basically, if you're going to find yourself stranded in one of France's many wine regions, and you love wine as much as we do, the Rhône Valley is a safe bet.

Northern and Southern Rhône

When it comes to the Northern Rhône, quality over quantity is key. Out of the 100 million gallons of wine produced annually, the Northern Rhône is responsible for less than 5% of the total production-though the juice they do put out is seriously killer. Much like Burgundy, understanding the Northern Rhône is pretty simple; Syrah is the only red wine grape permitted, and white wine production comes from viognier and marsanne, with small amounts of roussanne occasionally thrown into the mix.

From north to south, the appellations are Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu, Château-Grillet, Saint-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, Cornas, and St.-Péray. Each of these tiny appellations have a serious significance in the world of wine, so hold tight. Here's the need-to-know on these wine regions.

Rhône Valley wine regions

Côte-Rôtie

Translating to 'Roasted Hill,' Côte-Rôtie wines are some of the region's best, thanks to its southern-oriented slopes that protect from harsh, northerly winds. Wines here are made from Syrah and are characterized by bold flavor profiles of pepper and smoke. Up to 20% of Viognier is permitted in the blends.

Condrieu and Château-Grillet

These are white wine producing appellations, with the latter consisting of only one producer. The wines are plump and round, with low acidity and abundant oily, fruit-driven flavors.

Saint-Joseph

Saint-Joseph produces some of the Northern Rhone's best value wines; 90% of production is red, and the 10% white production comes from marsanne and roussanne. 

Crozes-Hermitage

Crozes-Hermitage is the largest appellation. It's also known for value bottles, with about the same red and white production ratios as Saint-Joseph.

Hermitage

Hermitage, otherwise known as Ermitage, is arguably the most prestigious appellation in the Northern Rhône. Wines coming from this celebrated set of three southern oriented hills need quite a few years in bottle before opening, but are well worth the wait. Though wallets, beware! You'll definitely be shelling out a pretty penny for these savory Syrahs and Marsanne/Roussanne blends.

Cornas

The boldest reds of them all come from Cornas, one appellation south, where the focus is entirely red-- zero white grapes allowed! These wines are the biggest and baddest of them all.

St.-Péray

Prefer a full-bodied white or citrusy glass of bubbles? Look to St.-Péray, just two short miles down the road from Cornas.

Southern Rhône

Hit the thirty mile stretch from St.-Péray and you'll find yourself in the Southern Rhône. Despite the distance being short, things drastically change from the north to south. While the Northern Rhône is characterized by a more continental climate, things turn Mediterranean as we get more southern.

The Southern Rhône's vast acreage gives way to an array of microclimates and varying terroirs, allowing for a production of bottles that covers the entire winemaking spectrum. Mild winters, ultra-hot summers, and a large diurnal shift in temperature characterize the region, and unlike its northerly counterpart, there are over 20 grape varieties permitted in this diverse portion of the valley.

The most popular of all Southern Rhône appellations is the famed Côtes du Rhône, which accounts for 50% of all wine produced in the entire valley. These entry-level reds, whites, and rosés are super affordable and easy-drinking, making them a no-brainer for food and wine pairings or simple weeknight, post-work bottles. The red blends are traditionally made with a 'GSM' assemblage [grenache, syrah, mourvedre], with Grenache dominating Southern Rhône blends as a whole. Fruit can technically be sourced from both the Northern and Southern Rhône, though more often than not, grapes come from the south.

Within the larger Côtes du Rhône appellation, there are 18 classified villages allowed to list their names on the bottle. The highest classification of them all is the cru level, of which there are eight, in the Southern Rhône; look for Beaumes de Venise, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Lirac, Rasteau, Tavel, and Vacqueyras for some serious quality juice.

Above all, the Southern Rhône has some seriously fun facts and deep-rooted history. Like did you know that Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the OG French appellation, claiming the system's first classified title in 1923? Also, for those who love to sip pink, the Rhône Valley was made for you; rosé lovers, head straight for Tavel- this is the only appellation in all of France whose production is entirely pink.

With nearly 1,900 private producers, 100+ co-ops, and over 50 négociants, Rhône Valley wine production is next level. From boisterous reds, fuller-bodied whites, sparkles, pinks, and even a few VDNs thrown in there (hello, Rasteau) there's definitely a Rhône bottle out there for every palate. Now that you're fully equipped, delve into the wide world of the Rhône Valley with these bottles today.