In Southeast France, between Lyon in the North and Avignon in the South lies a river valley well known for making red wines. This is the world famous Rhône Valley where some of the France’s most aromatic whites and long-lived reds are produced.
The Rhône valley itself is split up into wines produced in the North and those produced in the South as both regions grow different grape varieties and have very different styles of wines coming from their respective areas.
In the Northern Rhône the dominant grapes are Syrah and Viognier and most wines are either 100% Syrah or a blend of the two. White wine production only accounts for 2% of all wines produced so the Viognier produced in the Northern Rhône, in particular Condrieu, is still very highly sought after.
Famous producers and negociants in the Northern Rhône include Guigal, Paul Jaboulet, JL Chave and Michel Chapoutier and grapes to go in these famous wines are harvested from slopes above the Rhône river that are some of the steepest in the world.
Thus the quality of these wines is assured due to rigorous grape selection and the use of hand harvesting as modern machinery just cannot negotiate these steep slopes.
The Southern Rhône produces some fantastic everyday reds, some high quality sweet wines and includes three areas which are synonymous with the Rhone Valley – Châteauneuf de Pape, Gigondas and the Cotes du Rhône.
In the South the dominant grape varieties are Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah and the Southern Rhône model of winemaking has been emulated all over the world from Napa Valley in California to the Barossa Valley in Australia.
Châteauneuf de Pape is allowed thirteen different grape varieties of both white and red grapes in its blend and is possibly the most famous of all regions in the Rhône. One of my favourite wines to come from here is Le Plan GT by Dirk Vermeersch, but famous wineries also include Chateau de Beaucastel and Vieux Télégraphe.
They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery and if this be so then the Rhône is one to stand up and take notice of with wineries such as Bonny Doon in California imitating Vieux Télégraphe with his Old Telegram (a 100% Mourvèdre) and South Africa’s Fairview Goats do Roam – a play on words with the iconic Cotes du Rhône.
In 2010, the Rhône Valley was named by American publication Wine Enthusiast as the ‘2010 Wine Region of the Year’ for its overall achievements in the quality of wines, AOC vitality and business benefits.
Robert Parker, at WineFuture Hong Kong 2011, noted that he expected the Rhône Valley wines to become all the more popular here in Asia as drinking and laying down wines due to the astronomic prices now found for wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy. In fact, the Greater China region has seen growth of imports of Rhône Valley wines increase by over 101% from 2009 through to 2011.
The wine of the Rhône Valley is made such that it should suit the palate of the discerning Asian drinker with their range from easy drinking aromatic wines to deep, full bodied reds that work excellently with Chinese cuisine.
Go out and grab a bottle from your local distributor or head to the nearest wine shop and see what delightful complex wines are available from this area. You may just find your new love for wine in 2012 is centered upon the Rhône Valley.
Contributed by Alasdair Nicol, TLN Editor – Hong Kong