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The Rhone Valley

Wine making in the Rhone goes back a long way, the Greeks who founded Marseille  in 600 bc planted vines, later the Romans came and extended viticulture to the centre and north of the valley.

A Diversity of Wine - A Tale of Two Climates.

The Rhone valley, revered as one of France’s greatest wine regions, runs in a thin line from just south of Lyon to just north of Avignon.   Wine making in the Rhone goes back a long way, the Greeks who founded Marseille  in 600 bc planted vines, later the Romans came and extended viticulture to the centre and north of the valley.    Astute lovers of a drop of the red stuff, searching for a bargain regard The Rhone  as a credible and good value alternative to more expensive Bordeaux or Burgundy.

For years this option was not readily available to the London market. High transit taxes and even outright bans, enforced by the Duchy of Burgundy impeded the flow of Wine from the valley. It is not until the nineteenth century that Rhone wines began to appear regularly in London. However it is only in the last decades of the 20th century that the regions winemakers  begin to realize their potential.

Wine writers often divide the Rhone into two - the temperate north with its steep granite slopes and Syrah dominated red fermentations and the blisteringly hot and often windswept south which favours blends featuring the Grenache Noir grape.

Wines made solely from Syrah are produced in The Hermitage, Saint Joseph, Cote Rotie and Crozes-Hermitage areas in the north. There is also some white wine made from  the viognier grape, of which, the Condrieu appellation is the most renowned.   The star of the south is Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a wine with a reputation that extends back to the 1920s. The rules allow a blend of up to thirteen different grape varieties of which the two mains ones are Grenache and Syrah. The grape content may be uncertain but one aspect is definite- these wines are never cheap.

The Chateauneuf taste is often described as being herbs and spices with hints of under ripe dark skinned sour fruits. This is a strong tasting wine best drunk with food.

The bottles are impressive, made from thick green glass and weighing in at over 600g, with the regional name heavily embossed onto the bottle, above the stick on label. They convey a sense of olde world substance and class.

Demand for Chateauneuf has grown tremendously over the years. The world wants this wine and the producers have struggled to satisfy the market and maintain a consistent quality . Fortunately there are rival red blends from surrounding areas within the southern Rhone that are proving capable of providing a viable alternative. It is these wines that excite the savvy wine drinker.

   Chief among these is the village of Gigondas -a recognized wine area with its own label since 1971.  Also shining brightly in the wine drinking firmament are the vineyards of Vacqueyras, accorded official recognition in1990. 

Other villages and their surrounding vineyards are grouped under the cotes du Rhone Villages label. All have reaped the rewards of a drive to improve quality. To this end Grenache noir grapes have been favoured and average yields cut to the level of those in the Chateauneuf vineyards.

 There are over 6,000 wine growing properties one third of whom produce their own wine. Grapes from the remaining farms are sent in bulk to over one hundred Rhone cooperatives or to a negociant, who blend, distribute, and export on an industrial scale. Much of this wine will be labeled Cote du Rhone