France's oldest winegrowing area, but also its most misunderstood. Syrah is the guiding star for its characterful red wines, but in their way white wines made with Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier grapes are also simply unique.
Viticulture in the Rhône Valley is probably one of the oldest in France. The Romans planted the first vineyards here while using the valley as a transit station to the north to conquer Gaul. Some scholars believe that viticulture is even older, founded by Phoenician traders over 2,500 years ago. In support of this contention they cite the Syrah grape, whose origins can be found in Shiraz in what used to be Persia. Other names also bear witness to history: Châteauneuf-du-Pape is named after the Avignon popes, Hermitage after a hermit from the time of the crusades. The 20th century was not necessarily among the most successful in the wine history of the Rhône Valley. In recent decades, though, its muscular wines have been increasingly rediscovered by many wine lovers.
Next to the Loire, the Rhône is France's great "wine river". While the Loire is known for fresh white wine with high acidity, the Rhône's claim to fame is fiery red wine with dense, dark colour, concentration and spice. From its source in Switzerland the Rhône flows through Vaud, then on through Geneva and Savoie, joining the Saône at Lyon. The 220-kilometre-long area called the Rhône extends from Vienne, south of Lyon, in the north to Avignon in the south. A distinction is drawn between the southern and northern Rhône.
The climate in the south is warm. Syrah is very sensitive in the flowering period, so in the northern Rhône they depend on the warm south wind, which blows 300 days a year.
Predominantly red wines of variable quality. Top wines – Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage and Châteauneuf-du-Pape – and an abundance of average wines from neighbouring communes in the southern Rhône.
In the north: Syrah for red wines; Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne for whites. Many varieties are permitted in the south, the most important of which are Grenache, Cinsaut and Syrah for red wines and Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache blanc for whites.
Vineyard area and production volume:
about 149,000 hectares, 7.7 million hectolitres per year.