Here comes the fun part of every regional focus—the tasting. As always, make sure to read through the Rhone Valley Overview, Northern Rhone, and Southern Rhone articles before jumping in here. It’ll help put all the tasting and technical notes into perspective.
Larger and more spread out than the Northern Rhone, there’s no denying that we’re going to cover a good bit of detail here. With its varied terroir, the Southern Rhone comes with a larger variety of grapes grown and wine produced—good news if you want a diversified tasting experience. Indeed, most wines here are blends—red, white, and rosé, though red undeniably dominates. And, as The Oxford Companion to Wine (Fourth Edition) notes, though some winemakers do experiment with Syrah (the dominant grape of the Northern Rhone), here in the south, it’s far too warm for the grape to “ripen gracefully.” Thus, it is Grenache—at over double the planting—that is the Southern Rhone‘s most planted red wine grape.
After Alsace, the Rhone Valley is probably my next favorite French wine region. The diversity in terrain, climate, and soils, makes for a whole host of grape varieties and wine styles. Much modern winemaking in my home state of California takes its literal and figurative roots from the Rhone, so the history, along with comparative tastings, are of particular interest to me.
Today, we start with an overview of the Rhone Valley. A lot will focus on signature grape varieties of both the Northern and Southern Rhone, as well as some key terms and facts that will help us moving forward. Because my text doesn’t go into the winemaking history of the region, I’m not going to cover that in detail during this series, though I may drop an interesting anecdote here and there if it is relevant to the material being discussed. If interested, The Oxford Companion to Wine (Fourth Edition), does have a good historical synopsis. And if you’re interested in the California-French Rhone connection, I highly recommend American Rhone: How Maverick Winemakers Changed the Way Americans Drink by Patrick J. Comiskey.