The Rhône wine region is first divided into north and south. The north produces syrah based reds and pure viognier whites. The south produces Châteauneuf-du-Pape and other blends from several varieties.
The first cultivated vines were likely planted in 600 BC, however, the orgins of the two most important grape varieties in the northern Rhone (Syrah and Viognier) are unknown.
Syrah is the only red grape variety allowed in these wines. The grape is also widely known as Shiraz, its name in Australia, which has made the variety very popular with consumers around the world. Some Syrah, however, has white mixed in. The only white grape varieties in the north are viognier, marsanne, and roussanne. Marsanne and roussanne are used for the whites in Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, Saint Joseph, and Saint Péray.
The northern Rhone is characterized by a continental climate with harsh winters but warm summers.
Northern Rhone reds are often identified by their signature green olive and smoky bacon aromas. Premier Cote Roties include Guigal's "LaLa's": La Landonne, La Mouline and La Turque, while some of the most renowned wines from Hermitage are Chave's Cuvee Catelin and Jaboulet's La Chappelle. These and other top class reds from Northern Rhone command consistently high prices, but can age effortlessly for decades.
From north to south the appellations are:
- Côte-Rôtie AOC - reds with syrah and up to 20% viognier.
- Condrieu AOC - whites with only viognier.
- Château-Grillet AOC - whites with only viognier.
- Saint-Joseph AOC - reds with syrah and up to 10% marsanne and roussanne, whites with only marsanne and roussanne.
- Crozes-Hermitage AOC - reds with syrah and up to 15% marsanne and roussanne, whites with only marsanne and roussanne.
- Hermitage AOC - reds with syrah and up to 15% marsanne and roussanne, whites with only marsanne and roussanne.
- Cornas AOC - reds with only syrah.
- Saint-Péray AOC - sparkling and still whites with only marsanne and roussanne.
Some good producers include: Marcel Guigal, Vidal-Fleury, Rene Rostaing, Delas Freres, Chateau Grillet, Chapoutier, J L Chave, and Paul Jaboulet Aine.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC has 13 legal varieties, and the surrounding areas, Coteaux du Tricastin AOC, Côtes du Ventoux AOC, Côtes du Vivarais AOC, Lirac AOC, Tavel AOC and Vacqueyras AOC can have more. Gigondas AOC is predominantly made from Grenache Noir and is more restricted in the other grapes it can use. Fortified wines (vin doux naturel) are made in the Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise AOC and Rasteau AOCs.
The southern Rhone has more of a Mediterranean climate with milder winters and hot summers. Drought can be a problem, but limited irrigation is permitted.
The red wines of the Southern Rhone are blended from Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan, and Cinsaut while the white wines are blended from Ugni Blanc, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, Picpoul, and Clairette.
Some good producers include: Paul Jaboulet Aine, E. Guigal, Beaucastel, Vieux Telegraphe, Chapoutier, Mordoree, Grand Veneur and La Nerthe
Côtes du Rhône
Côtes du Rhône AOC is an Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée that covers both the northern and southern sections of the valley. Typically it is only used if the wine does not qualify for an appellation that can command a higher price. Produce from vineyards surrounding certain villages Cairanne, Rasteau and others may be labeled Côtes du Rhône-Villages AOC.