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