Rhône Valley

Warm, spicy reds are the order of the day here: white pepper features in the Northern Rhône and herby garrigue in the South.

It’s very much two areas in one: if you drive down the motorway from Lyon, it can quite often be cool and cloudy until you reach Montélimar when the skies clear and the temperature moves up a notch. The North also uses more Burgundian style winemaking techniques in terms of its use ofdemi-muidsoak barrels rather than the largefoudresof further south. There are unifying factors though and the main one is the use of Syrah grapes. Syrah contributes much character as the single variety in the North for Côte-Rôtie, Saint-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage and Cornas, or as a blending partner in the South. Blending in order to achieve complexity reaches its apotheosis in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. If Châteauneuf looks a bit pricey these days, try Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Lirac, Cairanne or Rasteau. Ripe, silky Grenache plays an important role in these wines, as it does in most Côtes du Rhône. Gentle whites made from Marsanne and Roussanne, and orange blossom Viogniers, particularly Condrieu, are impressive. Then there’s Tavel for rosé and Muscat de Beaumes de Venise forvin doux naturel.


Ventoux & IGP
The Southern Rhône has its Grenache-dominated blends, warmer climate and winemaking in larger vats or foudres, as in much of Languedoc-Roussillon. Pigeoulet is mainly sourced from the Ventoux, formerly just a source of cheaper, easy drinking wines but now home to many innovative producers. In the North, Mucyn’s Collines Rhodaniennes is a lively and unusual blend of Syrah and Gamay.

Côtes du Rhône & Villages
The appellation system in the South can be complicated, as the difference between a stand-alone village and a named Côtes du Rhône village can be a fine one. It’s often more important to the grower than the market. However, the quality, be it Lirac or Côtes du Rhône Signargues, is what is important. A good example of Côtes du Rhône, Tanners Rhône Valley Red is made for us by the Gonnets at Font de Michelle in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and is full of smooth, ripe fruit. From close to Orange, the Arbouse has been a tremendous success with its spicy style. As an alternative to Gigondas try the powerful reds of Rasteau and the smooth wines of Séguret and Cairanne, then across to the west bank of the Rhône around Lirac too. Domaine des Carabiniers is a 50 ha, fully biodynamic estate in the southern Rhône producing Lirac and Tavel, named after the Italian named mounted guard who protected the Pope in nearby Avignon. It also has Côtes du Rhône vineyards near Châteuneuf-du-Pape.

Gigondas & Vacqueyras
Vacqueyras is home to the Vache brothers at Clos des Cazaux who make stylish and characterful wine both in their home village and Gigondas. Also in Gigondas, the Brunier’s Domaine Les Pallières is now showing all its potential with full and intense wines. Châteauneuf-du-Pape may be the jewel of the South, but there are many other fantastic reds to try, from perhaps Châteauneuf’s closest relative, Gigondas.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Red
Châteauneuf-du-Pape dominates in the South and here the Bruniers at Vieux Télégraphe are right at the top of their game although many of the villages in the South produce wines in a similar style that can be better than much of the cheap Châteauneuf on the market. We have been impressed with the wines from Marie and François Giraud which have wonderful intensity and balance in a big and silky style.

Northern Rhône Red
The North produces only a very small proportion of the total amount made in the Rhône Valley, but what it lacks in quantity it certainly makes up for in quality and big names. Saint-Joseph is the biggest appellation here, running all the way from Condrieu down to Valence and covering many different terroirs and styles on its way. The classic area is mostly around Tournon and Mauves and the issue of whether to introduce a grand cru system to distinguish the top vineyards is very topical. Crozes-Hermitage is another big appellation with a great variety of soils which can lead to a variety of styles. Galets (large pebbles), as in Châteauneuf, cover some of the southern parts giving full-bodied wines, but the sandy soil of the North is more suited to whites.

The dominant Syrah in the North is generally cut with a bit of Viognier in Côte-Rôtie where it produces wines with wonderful perfume and elegance, epitomised by Domaine Rostaing’s wines. Jean-Pierre and Hélène Mucyn’s Crozes-Hermitage wines go from strength to strength. We look forward to their recently purchased parcel of Cornas producing its first wines. Cornas is where the Syrah grape reaches perhaps its greatest intensity and minerality on the steep, granite-based slopes but it’s an area expanding beyond its classic core and some wines can lack this intensity. Thierry Allemandis perhaps the leading producer of top quality Cornas. At Hermitage, the Viale brothers make full, rich wines with wonderful black fruits.


Tavel is perhaps the most famous rosé of the Rhône and makes full-flavoured wines across the river on the west bank, mainly from Grenache.

Dry White

Southern Rhône White
Complex, nutty white Châteauneuf-du-Pape is great, but the Perrin white too achieves much of this character. Single varietal Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier can also be full of interest.

Northern Rhône White
André Perret is the master of Viognier and played a huge role in restoring the reputation and vineyard area of Condrieu. His wines are aromatic and intense. Mucyn’s Crozes-Hermitage, made in tiny quantities, is full of peachy character.


Classic raisiny, grapey Beaumes-de-Venise is a Vin Doux Naturel, lightly fortified to give a bit more density. The Castaud family of Domaine des Bernardins achieved the appellation for the village and the estate continues to produce pure, delicious wines.