Wine Word of the Week: Rhone

By Kori ~ April 19th, 2011.

This week’s Wine Word of the Week is Rhone.

Official definition from Jancis Robinson’s The Oxford Companion to Wine:
Rhone is one of the most important wine rivers, linking a range of vineyards as dissimilar as those of Chateauneuf-du-Pape in southern France, sparkling Seyssel, and Fendant du Valais in Switzerland. In wine circles, however, the term Rhone usually means the fashionable wines made in the Rhone valley in south east France which themselves vary so much, north and south of an almost vine-free 50-km/30-mile stretch between approximately Valence and Montelimar, that they are divided into two very distinct zones….

… the southern Rhone (Rhone meridionale in French) is by far the most important [wine district in the Rhone valley] in terms of quantity. ….

The most important Rhone district in terms of the prestige of its wines is the northern Rhone (Rhone septentrionale in French), which includes the appellations of Hermitage and Cote Rotie, representing serious rivals to the great names of Bordeaux and Burgundy in the quality and, especially, longevity of their best wines. The northern Rhone is quite different from the southern Rhone in terms of climate, soils, topography, and even vine varieties. ….

Most [northern Rhone] appellations are based on the right bank of the river, but the left bank vineyards of Crozes-Hermitage, and especially Hermitage, are particularly well exposed to afternoon sunshine. This is the prime territory of the Syrah grape, which is the only red grape permitted in northern Rhone red wines. Fashionable Viognier is the defining grape variety of the white wines Condrieu and Chateau Grillet, while other northern Rhone wines are made from the robust Marsanne given nerve by the more delicate Roussanne grape. ….

The southern Rhone has only the river in common with the northern Rhone. …. Most wines are blends rather than made from a single vine variety. Although Syrah is increasingly widely planted to endow red wines with longevity, four times as much Grenache is grown in the southern Rhone. It can in theory be supplemented or seasoned by a wide range of other local varieties, but in practice only Carignan, Cinsault, Mourvedre, and Syrah are planted to any extent. ….

Layman’s terms from Kori:
The Rhone Valley, located in southeast France, is divided into two parts, appropriately referred to as the northern Rhone and the southern Rhone. While the northern Rhone produces mostly single varietal wines, the southern Rhone is known for producing blends. Cote Rotie, Crozes-Hermitage, and Hermitage in the northern Rhone are regions well-known for producing world-class Syrah. White grape varieties in the northern Rhone include Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne. The most famous AOC in the southern Rhone is Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which is well-known for its Grenache-based blends, many of which are GSM’s (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre blends). The dominant white grape variety in the southern Rhone is Grenache Blanc.

Filed under: French Wine, Wine Word of the Week

Reader's Comments

  1. itsoffal | April 19th, 2011 at 8:07 am

    I will no longer look for the fountain of youth, now that I found the river of wine.
    Hum, Fendant du Valais, yummy, delicious and clear like a mountain spring.
    Q- did you know – Gigondas, from the latin meaning joy, now that makes me happy happy.
    There has always been controversy as to the origins of Syrah, from the town of shyraz (Persia) , maybe from Syracuse (Sicily),
    or that it is actually from the rhone valley and that the word is derived from the word serein, meaning – sturdy, long lived.
    Is the jury still out on that ?
    Thanks for steering me in the rhone direction.
    In 2008, I enjoyed a bottle of Pierre Gaillard Crozes-Hermitage blanc, man was it delicious.

  2. Terry | April 20th, 2011 at 6:43 am

    Thanks for high lighting Rhone! My favorite grapes and terroir. The GSM from Good Karma Wines in Lk Chelan is what started my trek into wine less than 2 years ago. Also, Hospice du Rhone is in 8 days! So your word of the day is perfectly timed! Would be great to see the WinePeeps crew make a trip to HdR one year. I was able to attend last year and could not believe the size and scope of just Rhone winemakers and industry folk from around the world coming together in Paso Robles, CA, including Charles Smith giving a WA state wine presentation.

  3. Terry | April 20th, 2011 at 6:47 am

    Also, I look forward to the Wine Peeps crew booking a Wine Peeps fans wine trip to the Rhone region! That would be so fun as I look forward to our next trip to Paris in June and have to settle on whatever Rhone blends I can find at Paris wine shops.

  4. Kori | April 21st, 2011 at 10:23 am

    Thanks for sharing the Gigondas-joy connection. I love it! As for the origins of Syrah, DNA research has confirmed that Syrah is indigenous to the southeast of France. It is a cross of Mondeuse Blanche and Dureza.

    We have not had the pleasure to attend Hospice du Rhone yet but would love to do so one of these days. A Wine Peeps fans wine trip to the Rhone…intriguing idea. We’ll be sure to let you know if we ever decide to do something like that.


  5. itsoffal | April 21st, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Thanks, I believe I had read about the origin of Syrah some while back in the WS, but that was the only place, unless I see the information coming from different sources then I decide to hold off in telling the story myself, so now it’s valid.