The Guide to C么tes-du-Rh么ne Wine w/ Maps

Updated May 18th, 2018

The Rh么ne Valley has been a hub of wine culture since ancient times and is just as popular today. Come explore this superb region and learn why:

“There’s no place like Rh么ne.”

Viticulture as we know it arrived in Southern France with the Greeks in the 4th century BC. But it was the Romans who really established the vineyards and reputation of the area using the Rh么ne as their highway through France (and planting a few vineyards along the way).

Ch芒teauneuf-du-Pape means “The Pope’s New Crib” The Catholic Church was the next main influence when Pope Clement V moved his headquarters from Rome to Avignon in 1309.

C么tes du Rh么ne Label levels

Wine Quality Levels in C么tes du Rh么ne

The wines of the Rh么ne Valley are divided into four levels:

Wine Map of Champagne

Wine Map of Champagne

Learn the regions and crus of the Champagne region in France.

Buy Map
matched

C么tes du Rh么ne AOC

Accounting for 50% of the valley鈥檚 production, this is the 鈥榚ntry level鈥 classification. Most are red blends based on Grenache or Syrah and the vineyards are planted on a variety of different soils. Production rules are not as strict as other levels but wines must have a minimum of 11% alc. and be made from the 21 sanctioned grape varieties.

These wines are easy drinking, food loving wines that are perfect for everyday. The white blends and ros茅s are equally delicious too, even if a little harder to find.

C么tes du Rh么ne Villages AOC

The next step up the wine 鈥榩yramid鈥, the village wines are a bit more complex with lower yields and slightly higher alcohol. These wines are great for aging.

C么tes du Rh么ne (named) Villages AOC

Keep an eye out for labels bearing one of the 21 villages that are allowed to declare their names. In no particular order:

  • Visan
  • Puym茅ras
  • S茅guret
  • Saint-Gervais
  • Suze-la-Rousse
  • Sainte-C茅cile
  • Valr茅as
  • Vinsobres
  • Roaix
  • Sablet
  • Sinargues
  • Rochegude
  • Chusclan
  • Rousset-les-Vignes
  • St-Pantal茅on-les-Vignes
  • St-Maurice-sur-Eygues
  • Gadagne
  • Laudun
  • Massif d’Uchaux
  • Plan de Dieu
  • Vaison la Romaine

The Crus

These 17 distinctive crus of the Rh么ne Valley 鈥 8 in the north and 9 in the south 鈥 truly express their individual “terroir” and are responsible for about 20% of the Rh么ne wine production.

  • Beaumes des Venise AOP
  • Cairanne AOP (elevated in 2016)
  • Ch芒teauneuf-du-Pape AOP
  • Gigondas AOP
  • Lirac AOP
  • Tavel AOP
  • Rasteau AOP (changed in 2009)
  • Vacqueyras AOP
  • Vinsorbes AOP (elevated 2006)
  • Cornas AOP
  • Condrieu AOP
  • Ch芒teau-Grillet AOP
  • C么te-R么tie AOP
  • Crozes-Hermitage AOP
  • Hermitage AOP
  • Saint-Joseph AOP
  • Saint P茅ray AOP
  • Diois AOP (bonus! local, but not on the Rh么ne river)

France Cotes du Rhone Map by Wine Folly

Buy Map


What the Rh么ne Valley Region is Like

The Rh么ne Valley was created during the last ice age as the Rh么ne Glacier carved its way south through what is now France. Today, the Rh么ne River begins in the Alps and meanders for 505 miles to the Mediterranean Sea.

rhone-valley
Northern Rh么ne Valley. source

The vineyards are located on both sides of the river between Vienne and Avignon, just south of Lyon. The Northern and Southern Rh么ne are unique, each with vastly different geography, climate, soils and grape varieties, but share one thing in common 鈥 the Rh么ne River.


THE NORTHERN RHONE

The Northern Rh么ne is a mere 40 miles long and is responsible for a tiny 4-5% of all the wines from the region. The climate is 鈥楥ontinental鈥欌揾ot summers, cold winters and precipitation throughout the year.

Probably the most striking feature is the steepness of the hillsides. The vineyards are terraced to keep the soil from eroding, retain the warmth of the sun and make life a little easier for the vineyard workers!

This is the birthplace of Syrah and where many wine lovers find it reaches its height of expression 鈥 full bodied, savory, and elegant.

THE CRU VINEYARDS OF THE NORTHERN RHONE

C么te R么tie

The 鈥淩oasted Slope鈥 is home to some of the steepest vineyards in all of France.
Syrah loves the well draining granite soils and soaks up the sun on the south facing slopes. Wines from here can be pricey but worth it 鈥 raspberry, violet, truffles and chocolate are just some of the delicious descriptors!

Condrieu and Ch芒teau Grillet

Condrieu (Con-dree-euh) and the tiny vineyards of Ch芒teau Grillet are best known for the luscious wines of Viognier. This is the home of Viognier and at one time was the only place to find it. Again, not the least expensive of wines but something to savor 鈥 heady apricot, floral notes and a rich honeyed mouthfeel. I like to call it the 鈥榗ashmere sweater鈥 of white wines!

St. Joseph

The largest of the Northern AOC’s, St. Joseph is home to Syrah and the white varietals Roussanne and Marsanne. The whites are fresh with subtle fruit and floral notes, while the Syrah is lovely and perfumey with dark berries and a bit of licorice. Great with everyday meals, they are eminently drinkable and can be enjoyed without years of aging.

Cornas

This may be the smallest red AOC in size, but wines from Cornas are big and powerful!
Spicy, earthy, chocolatey and deep, these are wines made for aging, if you can resist!

Saint-P茅ray

Only white and sparkling wines from Marsanne and Roussanne in this AOC! The vineyards lie on extremely steep slopes on either side of a deep valley, creating a slightly warmer microclimate, giving us zesty sparklers made in the traditional Champenoise method. The still whites are equally refreshing 鈥 terrific before a meal.

Crozes-Hermitage

The biggest area in terms of production, Crozes-Hermitage often lies in the shadow of the famous 鈥楬ermitage鈥 AOC that it surrounds.
Wines are produced from Syrah, with Marsanne and Roussanne, and range from easy drinking to cellar worthy.
Look for famous names like Chapoutier, Jaboulet and Cave de Tain.

Hermitage

Famous the world over, the wines from Hermitage come from the small vineyards overlooking the village of Tain-l鈥橦ermitage.

Most of the production is Syrah and the wines really need some time to show their true character 鈥 round and full bodied with red fruits, wild flowers and leather. The whites are harder to find and were once the favorite of the Russian nobility.

Appellation Diois

The Diois (Dee-wah) is an isolated region about 30 miles east of the Rhone River.
It鈥檚 notable in that it has the highest vineyards in France (2800 feet). Most of the production is in sparkling wine; Crement de Die, but is now sanctioned for still wines of red, white and rose.


overview-of-Rhone-Valley-from-Google-Earth

THE SOUTHERN RHONE

As the Rh么ne River progresses southward, the valley widens and the climate changes. The region is distinctly more 鈥楶roven莽al鈥 with a Mediterranean influence in culture and climate. The summers are long and warm and the winters are mild; rainfall is less than in the north and the famous Mistral Wind is a major player. Another unique characteristic of these wines are the nuances of Garrigue 鈥 the wild resinous herbs that cover the landscape.

A wind so miserable it’s named “The Mistral”

The Mistral is more than just a cold fierce wind that blows from the Northern seas, it鈥檚 an important part of the culture of southern France and Provence. Mistral winds blow at an average speed of 60 mph (hurricanes start at 70!) and do so about 150 days of the year, mostly from winter to early spring. The bad part is that they can be very destructive, damaging or uprooting vines, but they have a good influence too. The winds are always followed by clear bright skies, providing abundant sunshine for the vines. They blow fungus-loving moisture from the grape clusters and, in summer, bring welcome cooler temperatures.

 
If Syrah is the big boy of the North, Grenache is the King in the South and forms the foundation of the area鈥檚 popular blends. You鈥檒l also encounter Mourvedre, Cinsault, Counoise, Carignan, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Clairette, Bourboulenc and a host of minor players.

C么te du Rh么ne AOC

This is the largest AOC and accounts for two thirds of Rhone production. Full bodied reds dominate, but the luscious whites and thirst quenching roses are well worth seeking out.
Gigondas

The Roman legions knew about the great wines from this area! With its hot climate, abundant sunshine and the Dentelle Mountains to protect vineyards from the Mistral, the predominately red wines from Gigondas are full, earthy and aromatic.

Vacqueryras

Named after the Latin for 鈥淰alley of the Rocks鈥, the Vacqueryras lie next to Gigondas. The wines are Grenache dominant with aromas of small red fruits and violets that age into licorice, pepper and spice.

Vinsobres

Higher altitudes and variety of soil types result in red wines that are dark and inky with black cherry, jammy fruit and lots of tannin. Only reds are produced here, from Grenache and Syrah or Mourvedre.

Beaumes de Venise

This is another ancient region, settled by the Greeks and home to the famous sweet wine 鈥淢uscat de Beaumes de Venise鈥. The vineyards are planted on steep hillsides that are terraced with man-made walls of local river rocks called 鈥榬estanque鈥. In 2005, the region was sanctioned for still red wines from Grenache and Syrah that are full of deep fruits and spice.

Rasteau

Another region famous for its sweet 鈥榁in Doux鈥 Rasteau has been producing its famous Grenache-based fortified wine for hundreds of years.

Lirac

Low rainfall and plentiful sun have made the region of Lirac a prime vineyard area for two thousand years. This is where the term 鈥淐ote du Rhone鈥 was first marked on barrels for export 鈥 a guarantee of authenticity still used today.
Lirac produces wines that are aromatic, structured and elegant with black fruit, truffle and cocoa notes in the reds, deep berry red fruits in the Roses and fresh, aromatic whites.

Tavel

Located just south of Lirac, Tavel鈥檚 vineyards date back to the Greek era and the 5th Century BC.

During the middle ages, the south of France was a popular holiday retreat for the Popes and they loved the refreshing rose wines that came from this region 鈥 so much so that they decreed that nothing else should be produced. To this day, Tavel is synonymous with Rose-in fact they have dubbed themselves 鈥淟e Roi des Ros茅s鈥 鈥 鈥 The King of Roses鈥.

The vineyards are planted with nine varieties in three distinct soil types:
Sharp, flat slabs of limestone called 鈥淟es Vestide鈥, pebbly soils 鈥淰allongue:鈥 and 鈥淥livet鈥, a mixture of sand and stone. Each contributes its own influence to the wines, creating Rose with a deep pink hue, lots of red fruits, berry and stone fruit flavors.

Ch芒teauneuf-du-Pape

The most famous of the AOC’s of the Rh么ne Valley is Ch芒teauneuf-du-Pape. This was the very first AOC to be recognized when the system was instituted in 1936.

The vineyards are planted with 14 varietals (18 if you count the variations!) at four levels of altitude as the land rises up from the Rhone River.

The soils are varied with the most famous being the large, rolled river stone or 鈥淕alets鈥 left behind millennium ago by the ancient glaciers.

Red wines are the most plentiful; Grenache and Cinsault with Mourvedre, Syrah and other sanctioned reds, producing wines that are full and aromatic with spicy dark fruits balanced with acidity and minerality.

Whites make up a small 6% of production but are worth trying. They speak of the warm southern climate 鈥 honeysuckle, stone fruits and melon, backed with refreshing minerality.

Check out wines from these ‘satellites’ too:

Costi猫res de Nimes

Slightly cooler thanks to sea breezes from the Mediterranean, this area produces whites, reds and roses that are big on fragrance, lower in tannin and very quaffable.

Tricistan/ Grignan-les-Adh茅mar

Originally recognized as Coteaux de Tricistan in 1973, this region was allowed to change its name in 2012. Seems there was a nuclear power plant in the area with the same name that had a little meltdown in 2008; not a marketer鈥檚 dream!
Whites, reds and roses and home of Truffles!

C么te du Luberon

With a more Mediterranean influence, the sunny hot weather produces wines that are deep and bold, with lots of black fruit, leather and licorice.

C么te de Ventoux

Named after famous Mount Ventoux, this region gives us bold wines that really show their terroir 鈥 reds with lots of pepper, spice and dark fruit, aromatic whites and full bodied ros茅. Native garrigue and lavender are major influences.

C么te de Vivarais

Located in the northern section of the southern Rhone, The C么te de Vivarais produces robust Syrah and Grenache dominant blends, deep roses and fresh mineral-driven white wines.


Get The Book!

Your wine smarts deserve to be on the next level. Get the James Beard Award-winning book!

Learn More

The Regions of Napa Valley

The Regions of Napa Valley

Get to know the regions and the wines of Napa Valley on this illustrated map.

Buy Map

About Hilarie Larson

I love talking, writing, reading, learning, and teaching, about wine. I adore vino so much I even married a winemaker. That鈥檚 dedication. Find out more about me.