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France’s Rhône Valley

Sure, winter officially starts in December, but we’ve all been in Baltimore long enough to know that the real weather hits in January, which is why we’re looking at richer reds and warming whites. Come, escape with us to the Rhône Valley.

Following southeastern France’s Rhône River, the Rhône Valley runs north to south and drains into the Mediterranean Sea. Divided into North and South regions, each producing distinct styles of wine, and though there are stellar rosés and white wines from top notch sites, the vast majority of Rhône wines are red.

The Rhône is an Old World producer of wine, meaning location and producer take precedence on the bottle over the name of the grapes used to make the wine. This month, our goal is to make you a little more comfortable with the delicious wines behind the mysterious labels.


The Rhône Valley is divided into several appellations, or legally designated growing areas, each with their own set of rules for production. Here’s a general look at North and South:

Southern Rhône
The Southern Rhône specializes in wines that are (generally) blends rather than made from a single variety. More often than not, the breakdown of grapes used will not be listed on the bottle and you’ll have to do some digging if you want specifics, and though 95% of production is of red wines, whites are interesting and definitely worth seeking out. Cotes-du-Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Rasteau, Lirac, and Cairanne are all names you’ll find on wines from the Southern Rhône.

For reds, Grenache is front and center and is often blended with Syrah, Mourvedre, Cincault, and Carignan. Generally medium-to-full bodied, tones of strawberry, cherry, and dark plum mingle with garrigue, black pepper, and earthy spice.

Cotes-du-Rhône Blanc and Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc often use Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier and are generally full-bodied with rich, hearty textures and perfumed with flowers and pit fruit.

Northern Rhône
The cooler more northern regions of the Rhône Valley are more often than not comprised of close to 100% of Syrah. Elegant, peppery and meaty with aromas of violets and smoked blueberries, these are long-lived and full-bodied beauties. Viognier, the aromatic white grape, is often grown in small amounts in the vineyards and ends up in the final wine in quantities of 4 or 5%.

Northern Rhône appellations (the regions you will find on a wine label) include Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Côte-Rotie, and Saint Joseph. Condrieu is a white wine appellation that makes wines of 100% Viognier that are spectacular, rich, vibrant, and laden with honeyed peach and flower tones.

Pairing Rhônes with Food

Rhône s are incredibly versatile for the table, from no-brainer pairings like rustic, Provencal cooking and Bistro fair to elegant dishes three-star dining. Rhône reds are particularly suited for duck, lamb, and game meat (like venison, for example). Rhône whites are adapted toward full-flavored, difficult food like garlic, fresh herbs, and egg dishes. Sound weird? Just try it with a garlic, shrimp and tomato omelet with a white Rhône …the perfect way to kick of brunch!

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