Wines from the Rhone Valley – do you prefer Cote Rotie or Chateauneuf du Pape?

By Julia Jenkins, 6th March 2017

Grapes have been grown in the Rhone Valley for over 500 years and most of them include some Syrah aka Shiraz in other parts of the world. This renowned region of wine growing known as the Rhone stretches between Lyons and Avignon with diverse terroirs ensuring a diverse range of wines are made with a natural divide between north and south.

In the north the climate is cool as a result of the mistral wind blowing off the Massif Central and thus the Syrah grapes grown here, the only type permitted for red wines in the northern Rhone have a more tannic structure than those in the south. In the south the rugged valleys dispel the strength of the mistral winds and thus have a more Mediterranean climate with hot summers producing riper grapes that have softer tannins.

Chateauneuf du Pape is one of the best-known wines from the southern Rhone though a little known fact is that it can be made from up to 19 different grape varieties of which 9 are white! However, mostly the blends include Shiraz and Grenache as the main constituent with the addition of Mourvedre, Carignan, Cinsault and others together with a splash of the white grape Viognier. The best Chateauneuf du Papes such as Domaine de Vieux Telegraphe are aged in oak and are rich spicy and stylish with great depth of lingering flavours. The best are often very good value but never cheap! Those from Domaine de Chante Cigale are classic examples of this wine and won’t break the bank.

There are some delicious smooth and fruity wines  Cotes du Rhone that from the generic appellation such as the Reserve de l’Abbe that are a lovely drink based on a blend of different grapes including Grenache and Syrah, but if you want wines with a hint of complexity and individuality look out for Cotes du Rhone Villages as the fruit originates in some of the better vineyard areas.

Further up still in the hierarchy of Rhone wines are those from the individually named villages such as Seguret making fleshy ripe wines, Cairanne lighter but still fruity with a hint of spice, Ventoux that is softly peppery with spice et al. They are from specific vineyard areas with obvious quality notes of length and depth of flavour.

In the north where the Syrah grape reigns supreme the wines are all of higher quality than Cotes du Rhone and are found under their regional names of St Joseph, Crozes Hermitage, Cote Rotie and Cornas to name a few. Although they cannot include other red grapes in their blends they can use Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne which when added sparingly to the wines ca add a lighter aroma and help to soften the otherwise more austere tannins that create the more-tight knit briary styles of wine in the north of the region.

It is in the northern Rhone that some of the most revered white French wines from the Rhone are produced – Condrieu and Chateau Grillet – from the Viognier grape that has great aging potential and blossoms when judiciously aged in oak barrels gaining a mellow alluring nose od peaches and dried fruit and a mouthfilling flavour with great texture. Roussanne and Marsanne are two other aromatic white grapes that grow exceptionally well here and show off their fine flavours and aging ability.

The Rhone Valley shows another face of the Syrah or Shiraz grape reflecting its ability to produce appealing quality wines when made from that grape alone or in a blend in a region of diverse microclimates and terroirs and therefore wine styles.


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