The northern Rhône vineyards lie on the banks of the river between the towns of Vienne in the north and Valence in the south. These vineyards are responsible for producing just 5% of all Rhône wines. However, they are home to wines with strong reputations and prices to match. Some northern producers have gained an international reputation for their wines and have done much to generate the quality image of northern Rhône wines.
Around 60 kilometres separate the northern Rhône vineyards from those of the south. The southern Rhône accounts for 95% of the Rhône valley’s total wine production. Quality levels are variable, with wine styles and prices ranging from relatively cheap easy-drinking Côtes du Rhône to rich, complex and pricy Châteauneuf-du-Pape (see the update in this week’s Making section for more information).
There’s sometimes a bit of confusion over the relationship between Syrah and Shiraz. Basically Syrah and Shiraz is the same grape, although it goes by different names in different parts of the world. Whereas the French refer to Syrah, in Australia the grape goes by the name of Shiraz. In other parts of the world a mixture of approaches can be found, with Syrah being used mainly in the rest of Europe, South America and the United States, and the term Shiraz being predominantly used in Canada and South Africa. Although Syrah has been grown in the Rhône valley since Roman times, the grape is thought to have originated in Persia (modern day Iran).
Apart from Syrah, key regional grapes varieties grown in the Rhône valley include the red grapes Grenache, Mourvèdre and Cinsault, and the white grapes Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier. In recent years Viognier has acquired almost a cult status, thanks to its exotic apricot, spice and floral aromas and its rich mouthfeel.
I hope you enjoy this week’s Rhône valley-focused update to The Drake Vine. Stay tuned for another French wine region next week!