Posts Tagged Rhone Valley

Rhône Valley: a tale of two wine regions The wines of the southern Rhône and its smaller northern neighbour are like chalk and cheese

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 17th June. 2017

It has always seemed strange that the northern and southern parts of the Rhône Valley are lumped together into the one large area. It’s a bit like putting Burgundy and Bordeaux under the same banner. Separated by a 40km gap, the two regions could not be more different. It is the aesthete versus the gourmand, little and large (literally), chalk and cheese. The south is big, boasting some 30,000 hectares of vines. It is sunny and hot (Provence begins at the southern tip) with rolling hills dotted with the heady herbs of the garrigue, olive groves and ancient Roman ruins. The north is much smaller, about one-twentieth the size of the south. Here, the vineyards cling to impossibly steep terraced slopes. It is too cold to cultivate olives – in the past peaches and nectarines were grown on the valley floor.

The red wines of the north are made from a single variety, Syrah, sometimes with a little of the white Viognier included. Northern whites are made from Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. Those of the south are typically blends, and can be made from up to 10 red grapes and nine white. A blend of Grenache with a dollop of Mourvèdre and/or Syrah or Cinsault is more usual for the reds.

Stiff backbone

The northern reds are savoury, elegant and often light in alcohol. The great wines of Hermitage and Cornas have a very stiff backbone of tannin, and keep for decades, but even they share a lifted fragrance and delicacy of the other Northern wines. Do not expect refinement and delicacy (although there are a few very elegant wines) from the south. Instead, you should find warmth, rounded, sweet, ripe fruits, scented with herbs and spice. At least that is what I thought. When I went looking for inexpensive full-bodied Côtes du Rhône in my local supermarkets, all seemed a fairly wimpy 13-13.5 per cent. Hence the hard-to-find Côtes du Rhône below (although it is delicious). I think growers are picking earlier to suit our tastes for lighter wines. Once prices moved over €15, there were plenty of more powerful, rich wines.

Comparative tasting

This week you can conduct your own comparative tasting at two price levels. The Ardèche and the Monteillet are both from the north and pure Syrah; the others are blends from the south. I am cheating a little on the Ardèche, which is a vin de pays, but it is made in the northern Rhône. If you cannot find any of those featured, you should seek out anything with from St Joseph or Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage or Côte Rôtie. For southern wines, a good domaine-bottled Côtes du Rhône (€15-€20) or a Gigondas, Vacqueyras or Rasteau (or even a Châteauneuf-du-Pape) should give you the true power and flavours of the south, as will both the wines below.

Bargain Wine
Syrah 2015, Vin de pays de l’Ardèche, Caves Saint Desirat

Light, cool, peppery dark cherry fruits with good acidity and a dry finish. With pork dishes.

Stockists: O’Briens

Côtes du Rhône Les Galets, Les Vigneron des Estezargues
14.5%, €14.50

Fragrant, with excellent sweet, ripe, warming, elegant strawberry fruits.
Stockists: Quintessential, Drogheda; Brown’s, Portlaoise; Wicklow Wine; O’Learys, Cootehill; Hole in the Wall; Clontarf Wines; The Grapevine, Glasnevin.

Les Hauts du Monteillet 2014 Stéphane Montez

Tantalising violet aromas, succulent dark cherry and blackcurrant fruits with a reviving freshness.

Stockists: 64 Wine; Green Man Wines; Searsons, Monkstown.

Vacqueyras 2011, Domaine Montvac Cuvée Vincila

Big, powerful wine offering intense ripe fruits sprinkled with spice. With robust red meat and game dishes.
Stockists: Wines Direct, Mullingar; Arnott’s, Dublin.


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The serious white wines of Rhône Valley offer good value

“White wines from the Rhône just don’t sell,” lamented one retailer. He may be right, but I hope that will change in the near future. The Rhône Valley is divided into two parts, north and south (or septentrional and méridional if you are French). The northern part is much smaller and the wines, red and white, are lighter and more elegant. The south is hot; not the sort of place where you would expect to find quality white wines. In the past, the rare examples were a little clumsy and alcoholic, yet quality has shot up in recent years. Even now alcohol levels are never feeble, but with food, the wines can really shine. The northern Rhône always had Condrieu and white Hermitage, now joined by some excellent wines from Saint Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Péray.


White Châteauneuf-du-Pape is possibly the best-known southern wine, but some of the more enterprising producers in other nearby villages such as Vacqueyras, Cairanne, as well as Côtes du Rhône Villages and the Ventoux now make small quantities of interesting wines.

They are invariably made from a blend of grape varieties that include Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Clairette and increasingly, Viognier. Typically they have a sumptuous broad richness that goes really well with food, as well as the all-important acidity that retains interest and balance. They make a great partner for barbequed fish, chicken and pork as well as grilled butternut squash and sweet potato. They can take robust spicing, even a little chilli, and certainly herbs. As wine lovers travel the world looking for alternatives to white Burgundy, the serious white wines of both parts of the Rhône are starting to look like good value. True, there isn’t a huge amount under €15, but if you prepared to pay €15-€20 for a white wine, there are some excellent wines that offer great value. And once you venture over €20, there are some stunning wines.


Three white wines from the south are amongst the finest I have tasted so far this year. They include the Montirius below, the stunning Clos du Cailloux Vacqueyras Blanc – 64 Wines in Glasthule tell me they still have a few bottles for €38, and the single vineyard Echalas from Clos Bellane (€28.99 from Cabot & Co), one of my all-time favourite whites. I have featured the Paradou Viognier here before (€14.99, Searsons & The Drink Store). It is a delicious southern white at an amazingly cheap price given the quality. I have also enjoyed the very tasty Viognier-rich Guigal Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2014 (€16; Londis, Wexford, and Joyce, Galway). But do ask your local retailer; I would love to discover a few more!

Bottles of the week

Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2015, Chapoutier

13.5%, €14.99

Lightly floral aromas, very moreish soft peaches fruits and a refreshing seam of citrus.

Stockists: Molloy’s; Nolan’s; O’Driscoll’s, Caherciveen and Ballinlough; Cass & Co.

Clos Bellane, Valréas Blanc, Côtes du Rhône Villages 2014 Biodynamic

13.5%, €19.99

Dried flower aromas, rich exotic fruits, citrus zest and a lingering satisfying finish.

Stockists: Cabot and Co, Westport –; Grapevine, Dalkey, Dublin – ; McCambridges, Galway.

Domaine de Fondrèche Ventoux Blanc 2015

13%, €19.95

Rich peaches, lemon zest and toasted nuts, all in one lovely mouthful.

Stockists: 1601 Off Licence; Green Man Wines; Drink Store, D7; 64 Wines; Searsons.

Montirius, Le Domaine, Minéral 2015, Vacqueyras

14%, €25.60

Floral and lightly honeyed, with wonderful voluptuous rich textured yellow fruits, underpinned by a reviving mineral acidity. Brilliant food wine.

 Stockists: Clontarf Wines; 64 Wines.

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