The Rhone region runs alongside the river of the same name and the wine region is split into two distinct area – Northern Rhone and Southern Rhone.
There are three hierarchies to the AC structure:
Lowest is the generic Appellation Cotes du Rhone Controlee. Then you get the Cotes du Rhone-Villages which is reserved for certain villages in Southern Rhone. At the top of the tree is an AC reserved for 13 Crus, 8 in the North and 5 in the South.
In Northern Rhone, the most important wines include Cote-Rotie AC, Hermitage AC, Crozes-Hermitage AC and St Joseph AC.
The wines grow in a granite soil with Syrah being the main grape, giving rich, full, tannic wines capable of ageing.
Red Hermitage is one of the heaviest French wines and can age for decades. These wines are usually very expensive.
In Southern Rhone you will find much better value wines that include Cotes du Rhone, Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas and Vacqueyras.
Many of the wines are blends, often including Syrah as the base and mixed with Grenache to give more rounded, alcoholic wines. 80% of the wines from Southern Rhone are from the Cotes du Rhone appellation and are made in a variety of styles, not all of them decent but usually much cheaper than their northern neighbours. Cotes du Rhone Villages wines have to adhere to more rigorous AC controls and are therefore generally better quality.
Chateauneuf du Pape is very well known and up to 13 grapes are permitted in the blend. These wines are usually heavy and alcoholic, worth opening a couple of hours before serving and excellent with most meat dishes.
Moving away from the reds, Muscat Beaumes de Venise is well regarded throughout the world as a great pudding wines (although not on a par with the best Sauternes).
Rhone vintage chart
Pocket Vintages Recommends
Chateauneuf du Pape has quite rightly a worldwide reputation for quality. This 2006 example from wine-maker Lucien Barrot is a good example of its type, showing blackcurrent and blueberry flavours against a backdrop of a boozy 13.5% alcohol. One for roasts and if you're lucky enough, suckling pig.
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