Ultimate Guide to the Rhone Valley Wine Region

Rhone Valley in southern France.
Some of today’s most popular wines hail from the Rhône Valley region in southern France. See more wine pictures. ­
Phillippee Colombi/Photodisc/Getty Images

­Sure, you know Champagne and Bordeaux, the celebrities of the French wine world. But how familiar are you with the wines of the Rhône Valley wine region? It ­is an ingénue by comparison. Although some of today's most popular French wines hail from this region, they were virtually unknown outside of France just 30 years ago.

A wine producer starting back in B.C. times, you might assume the Rhône Valley wine region has a long history of producing top wines. In reality, after about 500 years of wine production, the region produced little wine for almost a millennium. In this article, you'll learn about the Rhône Valley wine region's history and culture, its varied agriculture, which allows for a variety of grapes and wines, and some of the best appellations and wines from the region. Divided into two basic sub-regions, the northern Rhône Valley and the southern Rhône Valley, the region produces many wines. They range from reds to roses to whites, using everything from a single grape to a blend of more than a dozen in a single wine.


­The Rhône Valley is home to the popular Syrah grape that makes up many of the well-known Rhône reds. Another popular Rhône grape is the Viognier. Essentially, Rhône Valley vintners single-handedly saved this white grape from extinction, thereby allowing it to enjoy a newfound renaissance of sorts. It's now used in a variety of wines, and wine lovers everywhere can toast to the region's beneficial preservation efforts.

Rhone Valley Wine Region History and Culture

As its name implies, the Rhône Valley wine region sits in the valley of the Rhône River. And though the region started producing wines more than 2,000 years ago, this little area remained largely under the radar until approximately 30 years ago[source: Berberoglu].

For almost a millennium, the Syrah and Viognier grapes, for which the Rhône Valley region is now famous for, sat and withered. Then, in the 13th century, wine production picked back up when the Pope at Avignon began producing wine [source: Châteauneuf]. Today, wine continues to be a key product of the Rhône Valley region


Often overshadowed by its more-famous neighboring wine regions, Bourgogne and Bordeaux, the Rhône Valley region finally started to get some much-deserved attention. Between the 1960s and 1980s, outsiders began discovering the delight of the region's wines, bringing about its current success and popularity [source: Di Wine Taste]. As with many regions of France, the culture's focus is on great food -- to be paired, of course, with great wine.

Check out the next page to discover how the Rhône Valley region's agriculture allows wine lovers to delight in a variety of Appellation d'Origine Controlee (AOC) wines.


Rhone Valley Wine Region Agriculture

The Rhône Valley wine region is divided into two main sections, the north­ern Rhône Valley and the southern Rhône Valley.

Northern Rhône consistently has a climate of severe winters coupled with warm summers. It is colder than southern Rhône. The differing climates let the two sub-regions specialize in the growth of different grapes. Southern Rhône's warmer climate has mild winters and downright hot summers, making it a more Mediterranean-like climate. The topography in this southern area varies from the peaks of the mountains to the lows of the valleys [source: Enterprises Rhône-Alpes International]. The diverse landscape accommodates a wide variety of grapes.


The geographical division extends to the winemaking as well. The diversity between the north and the south exists not only in how the grapes are grown but also in how they are used in wines. Though the Rhône Valley wine region as a whole is most known for its Syrah-filled red wines, the reds are most popular in the north. The consistent landscape and season changes throughout the area seem to translate to a more consistent style of winemaking. Northern Rhône wines, which are generally reds, often use just one type of grape [source: Di Wine Taste].

The south, meanwhile, uses its variety of topography to influence its style of winemaking. Not only are many different wines made because so many different grapes can be cultivated, but the blending of landscapes has led to a blending of grapes as well. One wine, the Châteauneuf du Pape, uses 13 different types of grapes [source: Di Wine Taste]!


Famous Wines of the Rhone Valley Wine Region

The Rhône Valley wine region has many wines, including several wit­h the Appellation d'Origine Controlee (AOC) designation. Here are a few of the major appellations that are considered the best:

  • Côte Rôtie -- These wines are made mostly from the Rhône Valley's famous Syrah grape. These reds age well and are rich and beefy. Since it is considered one of the best wines, Côte Rôtie can be pricey.
  • Hermitage -- Though mostly made from the Syrah grape, some white Hermitages come from other grapes. While similar to the Côte Rôtie, this red is richer, more complex, and ages better than the Côte Rôtie. Another Côte Rôtie similarity is the steep price.
  • Condrieu -- Looking for a younger wine? Stick with Condrieu, a white that shouldn't age. This wine has apricot and peach flavors with a hint of floral aroma.
  • Châteauneuf du Pape -- This area has both a red and a white wine that are made with a variety of grapes, typical of the Southern region. As mentioned previously, this wine can contain as many as 13 different grapes [sources: The Snob, The Wine Doctor].

You might also consider the Côtes du Rhône, a southern appellation that makes whites, reds and roses. There are some great gems hidden there, but with so many producers and wines, the quality can vary [source: The Snob].


For more wine-related information, check out the links on the following page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

  • Adventure Wine. "Upcoming Adventures." (Accessed 2/2/09) http://www.adventurewine.com/upcoming_adventures.php
  • Berberoglu, Hrayr. "The Best Kept French Wine Secret - The Rhône Valley." Food Reference. (Accessed 2/2/09) http://www.foodreference.com/html/artRhônewines.html
  • Châteauneuf. "The Vineyard Throughout the Ages." (Accessed 2/2/09) http://www.Châteauneuf.com/english/
  • Di Wine Taste. "Rhône Valley." March 2005. (Accessed 2/2/09) http://www.diwinetaste.com/dwt/en2005032.php
  • Enterprises Rhône-Alpes International. "Agricultures and the Agri-food industries in Rhône-Alpes." (Accessed 2/2/09) http://www.investinra.com/medias/agrofood.pdf
  • Liberty International. "The Rhône Valley." (Accessed 2/2/09) http://www.liberty-international.org/france/Rhône-valley/
  • The Snob: 2B A Snob. "Rhône Valley." (Accessed 2/2/09) http://www.2basnob.com/Rhône-valley-wine.html
  • The Wine Doctor. "Rhône Wine Guide." (Accessed 2/2/09) http://www.thewinedoctor.com/regionalguides/Rhône.shtml