The Cotes du Rhone is a prestigious wine producing region located in the South Eastern side of France. It follows the Rhone River and is split into two main regions: Northern and Southern. Today, we’re taking a look at the Southern Rhone.
The Southern Rhone is a large region known for its red wine blends, although whites and rosés are permissible, and range from high volume and inexpensive to quite premium indeed! These blends often include more than a dozen different grape varieties, although chief amongst them are Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre.
The Mediterranean climate with its warm, dry summers and mild winters mean drought can be a problem. Another force of nature in these parts is the mistral – intense north winds that whip through the valley and can cause extensive damage, as there aren’t many naturally protective barriers such as hills to shelter the vines. Grenache is often bush-trained low for protection, whereas Syrah often sees a trellis system used for support.
Grenache is a high-yield vine, and one of the most widely planted grapes in the world. (It’s also known as Garnacha in spain, where it most likely originated.) It’s late ripening, so the warm climate of the Southern Rhone suits it well, and wines that are Grenache lead are often concentrated with red fruit and white pepper flavours, with more complex examples expressing blackcurrant, black olives, and coffee notes. If the grapes over ripen due to the heat, flavours can come off as baked or jammy. One of the reasons Grenache is often blended is because alone it typically lacks acidity, tannin, and colour.
Syrah adds extra colour and tannin, but it doesn’t thrive in overly hot sites. Mourvedre, on the other hand, excels in hot temperatures, and lends wonderful notes of dark fruit and a gamey or meaty quality that are highly prized in places such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Mourvedre is also deeply coloured with high tannins.
The most notable cru in the Southern Rhone is Chateauneuf-du-Pape, situated on the east bank and by far the largest of all the crus in the Rhone Valley. It was also the first area to have Appellation controlée status in all of France!
While I’ve only mentioned these three varieties, there are over a dozen different types that are grown and blended together, so it’s difficult to pinpoint a specific style of a Southern Rhone wine. Winemaking methods also vary from producer to producer, so one can find wines that are young, light bodied, and fruity to ones that are full bodied and tannic with intense meat and spice notes.
White wines are in the minority of wines produced from this region, and the varieties are typically Viognier, Marsanne, and Rousanne (as found in the Northern Rhone), along with Clairette, Grenache Blanc, and Bourboulenc.
Rosé wines are traditionally found in the subregions of Tavel and Lirac, the only two Southern crus found on the west bank of the Rhone. These wines are made from Grenache and Cinsault and on the fuller-bodied side, compared to say, a Provence rosé, and are quite complex and capable of aging.