Weekly wine defined: Rhone

Brynn writes:

A couple weeks ago we wrote about a Rhone Rangers trade show we attended in Seattle. Since that event, I’ve had France’s Rhone Valley on the mind. I’ve also tasted some great Rhone wines since then, and have to admit Saturday’s sunny weather left me craving a nice cool glass of a Provencal Rose (made from a red Rhone varietal).

So what is the Rhone?

Well it’s a river in Southern France. It’s also a valley, and a wine region that has some of the best wines around (not that I’m biased or anything).

We’ve said this before, but the interesting thing about France’s Rhone wine region is that there are 22 permitted grape varietals that can go into wines from the Côtes du Rhône appellation. In some cases, you might get a wine with a blend of 13 of the allowed 22 varietals. But, more often than not you’ll find a Rhone wine with six or seven of the different grapes, or less. And yes, in some cases white varieties will be blended with the reds.

The main permitted red grape varieties include: Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. Other red varieties allowed, and often used to a lesser degree are: Cinsault, Counoise, Vaccarese, Muscardin, Picpoul, Terret and Carignan.

The main permitted white variets include: Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Viognier and Marsanne. Other permitted whites include Picpoul Blan and Ugni Blanc.

Now to make it more confusing. Within the Rhone there are different classifications of wine. There is the general Côtes du Rhône, an Appellation d’Origine Controlee, then Côtes du Rhône-Villages, then Côtes du Rhône-Village with the name of the village authorized to have its name on the label and finally at the top to Crus des Côtes du Rhône.

With each step in the heirarchy, the wines face additional scrutiny and regulation. The number of Chateaus producing the wine also decreases. By the time you reach the Crus classification, only 15 crus are allowed to be recognized by their village name without the mention of Côtes du Rhône on the label.

The 15 crus include:

In the southern part of the Rhone: Lirac, Tavel, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Beaumes de Venise, Vacqueryas, Gigondas, and Vinsobres.

To the north: Saint-Peray, Corna, Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, Chateau-Grillet, Condrieu and Cote-Rotie. (Note: Chateau-Grillet is just that, a single Chateau, but it is its own appellation).

Probably the best-known region from this classification is Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This appellation has strict growing rules, including the prohibition of specific varietals. These grapes are not allowed in a Chateaunuef-du-Pape wine: Carignan, Viognier, Marsanne, Picpoul Blanc or Ugni Blanc.

Another specification of the Rhone region? A minimum percentage of specific grape varieties must be used. For example, the regions in the southern Rhone area must have at least 40 percent Grenache Noir in the blend, while the supplementary grape varieties of Mourvèdre and Syrah must make up a combined minimum of 15 percent. To the north, Syrah and Mourvèdre are the dominate grape varietals.

Now that we’ve given you all there is to know about the Rhone, your test is to go to the store and use your knowledge to identify the region’s different classifications on the shelf.