France’s Rhone Valley is home to some of the world’s most epoch wines. This wine region, a huge area with over 6,000 grape growers, is divided into two distinct sub-districts, the northern Rhone and the southern Rhone. Today’s blog will focus on the northern sub-zone (next week we’ll discuss the southern area, home of the famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines).
The terroir is quite different between the northern and southern Rhone, and no doubt has played a role in splitting the two into diverse areas. The Rhone’s northern wine district has a harsher climate with colder winters and hotter summers. The northern district's terroir is also influenced by topography. Milleniums-old glaciers moved through this area carving out dramatic hillsides. These steep hills now provide good drainage, complex soils, and excellent sun exposure for vineyards.
Terroir dictates the type of grapes that are the most suitable. In the northern Rhone, Syrah accounts for about 80% of the varietals. Thought to have actually originated in the northern Rhone Valley, Syrah is the only red grape allowed by law in the northern sub-region’s wines. These are cool climate Syrahs at their very best. White grapes, including Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussane, are also important in the area. Interestingly, in the northern Rhone, red and white grapes can be blended together to create a red wine. Whites are used to round out the Syrah, bringing flavor and aromas into the mix, as well as softening the angular tannic structure of Syrah.
Cote-Rotie and Hermitage are two of the most prestigious appellations within the northern Rhone. Both of these premier areas allow the addition of white grapes into making of a red wines, however, their percentages of white used are often quite small. These benchmark, complex and bold reds are frequently nearly 100% Syrah.
While most famous for its red wines, the northern Rhone also makes some drop-dead luscious whites. They are rare and some of my favorites on planet earth. A blend often of Marsanne and Roussane, they are pricey due to supply and demand. These gems are definitely worth seeking out.
Tune in next week for the killer wines of the southern Rhone.