Article - Other - 27. September 2021

Top Wines From Rhône Are Among The Best In The World

In the northern Rhône, intense conditions, resilient Syrah, and some of the world's very best winemakers are closely intertwined to create wine to perfection.

The Rhone Valley Is Home To Some Of The World's Best Wine Producers

The Rhone Valley is the second largest wine region in France with almost 70,000 hectares of vineyards. By comparison, Bordeaux has 120,000 hectares and Burgundy only 30,000 hectares. However, the majority of wine produced in the Rhône is ordinary Côtes du Rhône for the huge retail market. These are excellent wines, but they are not interesting for wine investment.

In the Rhône, however, the range from bottom to top is impressive. Rhône wines, which are at the top of the hierarchy, are indeed comparable in terms of quality to the best wines from both Burgundy and Bordeaux.

To get an overview of the best wines in the Rhône, we focus on two sub-regions: the Northern and Southern Rhône. This article highlights the Northern Rhône.

The Northern Rhône - Home Of Syrah

The Northern Rhône begins just south of Lyon and moves south for about 100 km along the Rhône River to just south of Valence. Here, the climate is continental with cold winters and hot summers. The river has carved its way into the landscape over the centuries, creating a natural funnel that clears the way for the mistral wind every afternoon. The mistral wind is particularly important for understanding the wines and people of the area.

The people here are literally used to being blown away, and that mentality is also seen in the wines. The soil is weathered shale and other rocks, and a thin top layer of soil feeds the vines with the nutrients that they need. The vines are daily struggling for survival in the Northern Rhône, and this intensity is reflected in the wines.

Syrah is the red wine grape per excellence in the Northern Rhône, and in fact, it is the only grape allowed for red wine on these shores. In some areas, there is a tradition of mixing a little green grape into the must during fermentation in order to open a greater floral character in the wines. However, the most classic Rhône red wines are made from pure Syrah.

The grape has a thick skin and can withstand the heat, wind and hard soil that dominates the Northern Rhône. The wines are generally dark with a lovely floral fragrance and some black fruit. The structure is controlled by dense tannins and a fresh acidity provides balance. These are wines that can be enjoyed young – the best, however, only show their true character after a good 20 years of ageing.

Production in the Northern Rhône is only 6% of the total in the Rhône, but it is here that the best wines are produced.

Côte-Rôtie - The Absolute Best Wines

The first area you meet in Northern Rhone, if you start in the north and follow the river to the south, is Côte-Rôtie, and here, the absolute best wines are produced on the large scale. The area is divided into two smaller regions, Cote Brune and Cote Blonde, each with its own character. In total, there are 330 hectares of vineyards in the appellation, and the 73 best parcels have been mapped over hundreds of years.

In Côte-Rôtie, almost only Syrah is used, but mixing a small amount of Viognier into the must during fermentation is allowed. This can help to open the floral bouquet of the wines and to balance out the harsh natural tannin of the Syrah.

Condrieu Is Dedicated To White Wine

Condrieu is an area dedicated to white wine from the Viognier grape. These wines can be made in any style, from perfectly normal dry wines to decidedly sweet wines. The best ones have the potential for a long life, but there is not much trade in these wines. The grape has a natural low acidity that helps create a unique character in the wines.

The wines from Condrieu often divide the crowd, but many show great enthusiasm when they taste one of the best white wines with many years of age from here. Today, Condrieu covers 200 hectares of vineyards shaped like terraces on the best slopes.

The Connoisseur Enjoys Château Grillet

Château Grillet is an independent AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) of 3.5 hectares located in Condrieu, where only one white wine is produced from Viognier. The entire appellation belongs to Château Grillet, which was traded in 2011 and acquired by one of France's richest men: Francois Pinault, who also owns Château Latour. The quality here is unique, and the best vintages have a long life ahead of them.

This is the wine for the absolute connoisseur, who is looking for something really special.

The Northern Rhône - Home Of Syrah The Northern Rhône - Home Of Syrah

Hermitage: Classic Area In The Northern Rhône

Hermitage is further south and is the second major classic area in the Northern Rhône. Three grapes share the attention here. Syrah for the reds – Marsanne and Roussanne for the whites. Overall, 2/3 red and 1/3 white wines are produced, and both have great complexity and potential to develop over many decades.

The appellation covers a hillside of 134 hectares, which is further divided into several different parcels. There is a great diversity of soils on the slope, which contributes to the great complexity of the wines. The hillside has a perfect slope down to a bend in the river, so the vineyard faces optimally south. This ensures great ripeness in the grapes here. Hermitage is home to both Chave and Chapoutier, some of the best producers in the Rhone.

Steep Vineyards In Cornas

The last interesting appellation in the north is Cornas, which offers some incredibly steep vineyards that can almost only be accessed with a mountain-climbing rope around your waist. The Syrah vines don't do well here, and this is evident in the wines, which have even more structure than wines from other good areas.

However, the area features a few magical producers like Clape and Allemand, who really know how to make wines that stand out from the rest. The best wines here are on a par with both Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage, but a small production makes Cornas a relatively unknown name.

Crozes-Hermitage And Saint-Joseph

These two areas generally cover flatter cultivated areas with less edge and less stones in the soil. This generally results in wines that are more accessible when young. As a result, the wines appear more drinkable at a young age, but have less potential to age for many years. There are few exceptions to this rule.

Hermitage Cuvee Cathelin Hermitage Cuvee Cathelin

Producers In The Northern Rhône

Historically, the Rhone Valley has been dominated by large negociants, such as Jaboulet and Chapoutier. They produce many wines from most appellations in the region, but also specialise in individual areas. Here, they often own parcels themselves, where they can use their great knowledge to produce some of the best wines in the region. However, the more common wines in the range from these negociants may be of more consistent quality.

In addition, there are a number of smaller wineries, which are domains owned by families who pass on their knowledge and care for the detail of all the wines of the house. These domains will often have a narrow assortment and often have wines with great personality, which are often qualitatively to be found at the very top of the hierarchy. Many of these wines will also only be produced in small quantities that are harder to source in the market.

Guigal Is The Essence Of Perfectionism

Guigal is one of the big players in the Rhône with its own vineyards in both north and south. The house is still owned by the family, and Phillippe Guigal is the next generation to take over. The Guigal family are famous for their holdings in Côte-Rôtie, where they have been awarded 100 points by The Wine Advocate more than 30 times. Their three La-La-La wines (La Mouline, La Landonne, La Turque) from each parcel stand as the supreme reference points for Northern Rhône. And indeed, their Ex-Voto from Hermitage is at the same high level of quality in both white and red.

A perfectionist approach to vineyard production and acquisition has led to Guigal owning vineyards in all the main communes since its establishment in 1946. Furthermore, it produces wines from purchased grapes, all of which also maintain high standards.

If the Guigal name appears on the label, you are guaranteed high quality in the bottle.

Iconic Wines From Chapoutier

1808 was the year when the Chapoutier family opened their first wine shop in Tain l'Hermitage. From the beginning, they acquired grapes as negociants, but today, they also have the status of major landowners. Hermitage is the crown jewel, and Chapoutier owns 2/3 of the total acreage here, from which they produce by far the most iconic wines.

The family's own vineyards are cultivated biodynamically, and purity in all aspects is a big part of the motto at Michel Chapoutier. Today, work is carried out in the best communes in the north and south. The best wines all come from the house's own vineyards.

Jaboulet From Excellent To World Class

2006 was a turning point for the Jaboulet company, as the Frey family acquired and immediately raised the quality from excellent to world class. Caroline Frey, who graduated as an oenologist in Bordeaux, took over, and she is still to be found at Jaboulet. Today, it is the family's top wine from Hermitage, La Chapelle, that is particularly famous.

The negociant part of the company produces wines in all categories from the Rhône, where especially their Parallelle 45 Cotes du Rhône is famous for good quality.

The Top Domain Chave

Chave is an absolute top domain in Hermitage, where the family owns under 15 hectares, all of which are tended with a pair of scissors if that is what it takes to lift the quality. Each parcel is cultivated uniquely, and only after ageing, the final blend is made. This to ensure the absolute highest quality and complexity of the wines. Two red Hermitage wines are produced, of which the top cuvée Cathelin is produced in the best vintages in around 2400 bottles.

The family has been around since 1481 and is considered probably the best producer of classical style in the northern Rhône. In fact, it also produces a mythical white Hermitage with potential extending over several decades.

Magic Alleman Performs Wine Magic

The unique man in Cornas with the magic touch and great energy. Since the beginning in the 1980s, Thierry Allemand has worked the steep slopes with great intensity and love. Today, this results in two different wines from two parcels of vines that show the potential of this appellation. Allemand's wines can be placed at the top of the hierarchy in the Northern Rhône.

High Quality At Rostaing

Domaine Rostaing is the epitome of elegant Côte-Rôtie, produced on less than seven hectares on the best parcels. Rostaing owns parcels and makes wine on both the Côte Brune and the opposite Côte Blonde. Today, son Pierre Rostaing makes the wine and has succeeded in elevating the quality of this classic domain.

Thierry Allemand Cornas Reynard Thierry Allemand Cornas Reynard

The Northern Rhône Is Packed With Quality

Although the Northern Rhône only accounts for 6 % of total Rhône production, there is quality across almost the entire palette. The producers here each take the area's intense conditions as a starting point when creating their wines – and it pays off.

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