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Côtes du Rhône wine

The home of the Syrah variety.

The wines from the Rhône are produced in the region located between the French cities of Vienne and Arles. The Rhône River (Rhône) is 812 km long and is one of the world’s major rivers. It runs through Switzerland, where it starts, and travels through France. And it is in France, between Vienne, the old Roman city, and Avignon, in the southeast of France, where the best Rhone wines are made. This region is considered the second area of high quality vineyards in the world: the Rhone Valley, where the absolute queen is the Syrah variety. This variety produces some great red wines like those made in Côte Rôtie, Crozes-Hermitage and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, some of the best-known denominations in this famous wine region.

History of Rhône wine in this area

The Rhone Valley was formed during the last ice age and is a winding corridor from the Alps to the Mediterranean where the Romans were already growing grapes and making wine at least 2,000 years ago. Historical remains have been found which prove that the Rhône vineyards are some of the oldest in the world.

In the Middle Ages, it was the church that encouraged the production of wine in the Rhône Valley, resulting in the “wine of the popes”.

In the 14th century the papacy moved from Rome to Avignon, and the popes, great lovers of local wines, were the driving force behind the growth of the vineyard in the city. John XXII had a summer residence built in Châteauneuf, at that time the administrative district was known as “Côste du Rhône” and it was not until the 19th century that this label was extended to include the vineyards on the left bank of the river. Since then, we have been calling this region Côtes du Rhône.

In 1930, Baron Le Roy, a visionary winemaker from Châteauneuf du Pape, fought for the recognition of the high quality and unique characteristics of the region’s wines. This is how the status of Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC, in French) came to be.

Grape varieties

The Rhone Valley is considered the birthplace of the Syrah variety, a red grape that has become famous around the world thanks to the great wines it is used to make.

Although most of the region’s wines are reds made from Garnacha or Syrah, along with whites made with mainly the Viognier and Marsanne varieties, there are about 23 authorised varieties grown in the Rhône Valley, and of those, there are a few that stand out:

White varieties:

Bourboulenc, Clairette, Maccabeo, Marsanne, Picardan, Roussanne, Vermentino and Rolle, Viognier, Garnacha Blanca, Muscat Blanc, Picpoul Blanc and Ugni Blanc.

Red varieties:

Calitor, Cariñena, Cinsault, Counoise, Garnacha Gris, Marselan, Mourvèdre, Muscardin, Clairette Rose, Garnacha, Muscat Noir, Picpoul Noir, Terret Noir, Syrah and Vaccarèse.

Location, climate and soils

The valley of this 812-kilometre-long meandering corridor has soils as rich as they are diverse. Each of them brings unique properties and characteristics to the wines produced there.

In the northern part of the Rhône Valley (Northern Rhône), steep slopes predominate, merging into gentler plots where vines are grown on terraces that make the most of the area where the soils are clayey, rocky and granitic.

The climate here is continental, with hot summers, cold winters and rainfall throughout the year.

In the southern part of the Rhône (Southern Rhône) the valley widens and the climate changes. There is an abundance of large plains where vines grow alongside more Mediterranean vegetation in an area marked by scrubland with olive trees, pines and lavender. Here the predominant soils are composed of clay, rock, limestone and sand.

The region experiences a climate with a stronger influence of the Mediterranean and is more “Provençal”, with mild winters, warm and long summers and less rainfall than in the north.

The south also has a special guest, sometimes much desired and sometimes not so much: the Mistral.

The Mistral is a cold, dry and violent wind that blows from the northern seas at a speed that usually reaches 100 km/h and can exceed 140 km/h.

It appears from November to April and because it is so strong, it can be very damaging for the vineyard. On the other hand, these winds can also be a good influence as they result in clear skies that give the vines excellent sun exposure while helping to prevent the growth of fungus by removing moisture from the bunches. It also helps to regulate summer temperatures.

Rhône wine classification and regions

In the Rhone Valley there are about 67,628 hectares of vineyards that make around 3 million hectolitres of wine, which is the equivalent of filling 100 Olympic swimming pools.

75% of the wine produced in the Rhône Valley is red, 15% is rosé and 10% is white. It is made across 31 denominations, which are making great progress in their quest to convert to organic agriculture. 50% of the wines produced already have organic certification.


Côtes du Rhône.

In 1937 the creation of the AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) Côtes du Rhône was formalised.

Côtes du Rhône is the entry level denomination in the region. It covers an area of 30,000 hectares and accounts for 50% of the total production, which is mainly red wines made from Syrah or Garnacha.

Rich, generous, pleasant wines, with spicy nuances, coming from vineyards with different soils. The vines are planted in 171 communes stretching from Vienne to Avignon and result in wines that are easy to drink and perfect for everyday use. There are also white and rosé wines made here but they are more difficult to find.

Côtes du Rhône Villages

About 95 villages belonging to four departments: Ardèche, Drôme, Gard and Vaucluse in the Southern Rhône make up the AOC Côtes du Rhône Village, which was created in 1966 and produces a huge variety of wines with styles and characteristics that depend on the nature of the soil where the vines are grown. These are more complex wines, with a little more alcohol and can be aged.

The production criteria in this Denomination are stricter. Although the soils are similar to those in the AOC Côtes du Rhône, there are two types of wines made here: those that come from stony and clay-limestone soils and are dense, meaty and full-bodied with powerful aromas. And those that come from arid and stony soils and are pleasant, elegant, fine and fruity.

21 of these 95 villages have a certified quality standard that allows them to add the name of their village to their labels. These wines are known as Côtes du Rhône Village with a geographical name.

The red wines are usually fine and elegant. They go very well with game, duck, veal, roast pork, dishes made with offal, lamb stew, as well as with hard and semi-hard cheeses.

The white wines have floral nuances and pair perfectly with hot or cold seafood dishes, chicken soup, rabbit and cheeses in general.

The rosé wines have fruity notes that go perfectly with raw vegetables, mixed salads, chicken, sausages, grilled meats and exotic dishes.

Côtes du Rhône Crus

There are 16 Crus defined by their ability to express the extraordinary characteristics of each terroir through their wines. 8 of them are located in the north and the other 9 are in the southern part of the Rhône and, in total, they account for 20% of the Rhône Valley’s total wine production.

In the north:

AOC Côte-Rôtie
AOC Condrieu
AOC Château-Grillet
AOC Saint-Joseph
AOC Hermitage
AOC Crozes-Hermitage
AOC Cornas
AOC Saint Péray

And in the south:

AOC Vinsorbes
AOC Rasteau
AOC Cairanne
AOC Gigondas
AOC Vacqueyras
AOC Beaumes des Venise
AOC Châteauneuf-du-Pape
AOC Lirac AOC Tavel

Other denominations:

AOC Châtillon-en-Diois

Special mention should be made of the AOC Châtillon-en-Diois which, although not exactly located in the Rhône River Valley, is one of the highest mountain vineyards in France. Its average altitude is 400 metres above sea level but there are some plots of vines planted at 700 metres above sea level. It is located between the north and south of the Rhône Valley, at the foot of the Vercors Massif, on the slopes of the southern sub-Alpine ranges with the Drôme River and its tributaries running through.

Sweet Wines .

The Rhône Valley has two denominations that produce naturally sweet wines: Muscat-Beaumes-de-Venice and Vins Doux Naturel Rasteau.


This is a world-famous natural sweet wine made from the Muscat à Petits Grains variety that grows on centuries-old terraces.

Vins Doux Naturel Rasteau:

The sweet wines of Rasteau are exceptional. They are made with Garnacha grapes from old vines that have excellent exposure to the sun. Each vine produces less that one bottle of wine.

Golden Rasteau wine is a beautiful amber colour, with aromas of dried fruits, apricots and honey.

The Rasteau red wine is made from crushed grapes and aged in barrels where it ages like a rancio wine, giving rise to notes of prunes and spices. This wine can age for up to ten years. This aging produces roasted notes and notes of dried fruits.

In addition to the renowned red wines, the Rhône Valley produces white wines with their own denomination, like Clairette de Bellegarde, made from the rare Clairette Blanche variety; and sparkling wines like those from the Crèmant de Die denomination of origin, which is made from a blend of the Clairette Blanche, Aligoté Blanc and Muscat à Petits Grains varieties.

Some outstanding Rhône wineries

Maison M. Chapoutier

There are more than two centuries of tradition and experience behind Maison M. Chapoutier, which makes wines in every Rhône Valley denomination, with the best known being those produced in Hermitage. Since the 1980s, under the leadership of Michel Chapoutier, M. Chapoutier wines have become better and better known around the world. The Maison now owns 160 hectares of vineyards in the Rhône and is working towards converting to biodynamic practices. They are the first winery to label their wines in Braille and they also have vineyards in other regions of France, Portugal and Spain.

Domaine E. Guigal

Etienne Guigal founded the Domaine in 1946, a family winery with a unique vineyard located in the town of Ampuis, in the heart of the Côte Rôtie. Three generations: Etienne (father), Marcel (son) and Philippe (grandson) who work to produce some of the most prestigious Rhône wines in the world. Domaine E. Guigal now has more than 180 hectares of vineyards located in different denominations of the Rhone Valley where they produce outstanding cuvées, full of nuances and always well regarded by international critics.

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E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Rouge 2020

France AOC Côtes du Rhône (Rhone)

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France AOC Côtes du Rhône (Rhone)

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France AOC Châteauneuf-du-pape (Rhone)

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