This page is a guide to the best wines from the Rhone Valley with a listing of the top Wine Producers in the Rhone Valley from the appellations of Cote Rotie and Hermitage in the Northern Rhone, along with Chateauneuf du Pape and other important appellations in the Southern Rhone Valley.
The Rhone Valley is a large growing area. In fact, it’s the second biggest appellation in France. Only Bordeaux has more vineyards. There are more than 71,000 hectares of vines planted in the Rhone Valley today. In total, there are 29 different AOC appellation in the Rhone Valley. In addition, there are 27,500 hectares planted in Provence. There are 23 different appellations in the Southern Rhone and there are 6 appellations in the Northern Rhone Valley. The Southern Rhone is a much larger area than what you find in the Northern Rhone. The title to the largest appellation in the Rhone Valley belongs to the Cotes du Rhone. The smallest appellation in the Rhone Valley is Beaumes des Venise, with only 27 hectares of vines. The most recent AOC appellation is Duche d’Uzes, which was awarded AOC status in 2012.
There are 27 unique grape varieties allowed for planting in the Rhone Valley. More than 5,000 different producers, domaines and vineyards are actively involved in making wine. Red wine is king in the Rhone Valley. In the Northern Rhone, Syrah is the only red wine grape allowed. In the Southern Rhone, things get more complicated as more than 15 red wine grapes are permitted for the red wine. However, the most popular red wine grape in the Southern Rhone is Grenache. In fact, 79% of all wines produced in the Rhone are red. 15% are rose’ and the remaining 6% are white wines. For the white wines of the Rhone Valley, 12 different grape varieties are planted in the region. In the Northern Rhone, only three white wine grapes are planted, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. In the Southern Rhone, things once again are more complicated with a total of 12 different grapes being planted in the various appellations.
The Rhone Valley produces more than 33,330,000 cases of wine each vintage. In case that looks like a zeros, it is. That means more than 33 million cases of wine are produced in the Rhone Valley every vintage. Another way to look at this is, more than 400 million bottles of wine are produced in the Rhone Valley each year! Much of that wine is sold in France to thirsty wine lovers. After France, England, Belgium, United States of America, Canada and Germany are the biggest consumers of Rhone wine. Of the top wines, in other words, the more expensive bottles, England and the United States of America are the two biggest consumers. The world-wide demand for Rhone wine continues growing and so does the export market for these wines.
The Rhone Valley has seen cultivation of its land for vineyards for more than 2,000 years. The ancient Greeks were the first people to plant vineyards in the region. This took place in 400 BC in the area of Marseilles. The ancient Romans knew how to spot the best sites for vineyard planting as well. By the first century AD, they too cultivated the region, planting vines in Vienne, which is in the general area of what we now call Cote Rotie. Ancient ruins are easy to find throughout the Rhone appellation. It took almost 1,000 years before the next major change to the Rhone Valley took place. In 1309, the Pope moved the official residency to Avignon in 1309, which gave the most famous wine region in the area its name, Chateauneuf du Pape. During the 1800’s, Syrah from Hermitage was sold to Bordeaux and Burgundy to help improve their wines in light years, giving the wines darker color, more structure and backbone.
Because of the massive size of the Rhone Valley, the wide variances in terroirs and myriad of different grape varietals planted, it could be argued that the Rhone Valley provides the widest range of wine styles and price points of any major wine growing area in the world. You won’t get an argument from me!
The style and character of the wines coupled with the skill set required to produce wine from Northern Rhone Valley versus the Southern Rhone Valley are quite different. This is due in large part to the difference in grapes and soil types. In the Southern Rhone Valley, most of the vineyards are on flat, rocky and sandy soils. Producers are allowed to blend up to 15 different grape varieties to make their wine. In the Northern Rhone, only 2 grape varieties are allowed by law. The terroirs are mostly, steep, granite hillsides.
While the process of blending is a large part of what makes the character and style from both areas, in the Southern Rhone, the skill set is in the blending of the different grapes. In the Northern Rhone, the art of the blend comes from taking the same grape from different soils and terroirs. It’s also important to keep in mind, that a large part of what differentiates the wines from the Northern Rhone and Southern Rhone is that in the north, Syrah is the only red wine grape allowed. In Chateauneuf du Pape and the Southern Rhone Valley, the wines are dominated by Grenache.
Just below this paragraph, this page offers links to complete profiles on the best Rhone Valley wine producers in the appellation, covering both northern Rhone valley wines and Northern Rhone valley wines. The profiles include detailed, wine tasting notes, an analysis of the styles and characteristics of each winery, images and information on the soil, terroir and details on the wine and wine making of each estate as well as links to help you buy the wines at the lowest prices. You will also find detailed descriptions on each of the major appellations from the Southern Rhone Valley, Chateauneuf du Pape, Cote Rotie and Hermitage, along with information on the most important grapes used in the production of Rhone valley wines. Guide to Grapes for Red and White Rhone Wine