Rhôneology | Part 1

By Louise Wilson MW


In my opinion, the best way to learn about a wine region is to taste your way through the Appellations. In the case of the Rhône, it is a delicious education.


The Rhône is one of the world’s oldest wine regions and in France, second only to Bordeaux in size. Vines flank the banks of their namesake river from Vienne to Avignon. The hierarchy of Appellations begins with the wines of the Côtes du Rhône, ascends through the Côtes du Rhône Villages, graduates to the 22 Villages with specified names and peaks with the 17 Côtes du Rhône Crus. Increasingly stringent production standards ensure a corresponding rise in quality.


A distinct contrast exists between the wines produced in the continental climate of the Northern Rhône and those made in the Mediterranean climate of the south. Let’s begin our journey south of Montélimar, where the Mistral winds sweep the skies of clouds and clear the vineyards of pests and mildew. The galets roulés or pudding stones are another striking aspect of the terroir. Most closely associated with the soils of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, these rounded pebbles give an extra boost to the vines by absorbing the heat of the day and radiating it back to the vines in the evening.


Blends rule in the Southern Rhône. The advantage is two-fold. Not only does each grape contribute its best attributes in terms of flavours and structure, the strategy of blending also offers viticultural insurance from variable weather. Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre (GSM) blends dominate. Grenache brings bright strawberry flavours and generous alcohol while Syrah and Mourvèdre add tannic structure and harmonious flavours. Syrah also contributes elements of red and black fruit, savoury bacon and pepper while Mourvèdre complements the trio with its inky colour and earthy tones. Numerous other varieties support the red blends, while Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier lead the charge for the white blends.


The most revered Cru in the south is Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The wines are simultaneously savoury and fruity, both approachable and capable of aging. Neighboring Gigondas can be a great place to shop, delivering on quality with a characteristic fresh and elegant style. White wines are more elusive; however, some gems can be found within the Côtes du Rhône, Costières de Nimes and Ventoux. Tavel is reserved for rosé only, offering deeply coloured, mouth-filling, and impressively food-worthy wines.


And this is just a glimpse into the wines of the Southern Rhône. Enjoy your research!


Our Rhone Producers
  1. Domaine Pichon
  2. Domaine des Remizières
  3. Domaine du Murinais
  4. Vignerons Ardéchois
  5. Domaine de Mermès
  6. Château MontPlaisir
  7. Domaine des 3 Lys
  8. Domaine Martin
  9. Domaine de Piéblanc
  10. Château de Montmirail
  11. Domaine des Fontnobles
  12. Domaine Saint Pierre
  13. Domaine la Pierre du Coq
  14. Domaine Berthet-Rayne
  15. Château La Genestière
  16. Domaine des Romarins
  17. Château Saint-Bénezet
  18. Château Bellefontaine


Go more in-depth with Part 2 here.

Louise Wilson MW lives in the Niagara region and is one of ten Masters of Wine based in Canada. She has worked in a number of different fields including export, retail, hospitality and education.