The Rhone Valley, looks very much like a miniature Italy as it stretches 200km (125 mi) from south of Lyon to just south of Avignon. Along this course the climate varies from the Rhone’s cold winters and warm summers to the classic Mediterranean where winters are mild and summers hot.
The relatively more constant sun combines with granitic soil in the north, limestone in the south to produce Grenache, Syrah and Carignan used in red wines, and Clairette, Ugni Blanc and Grenache Blanc for whites.
The Grenache dominates with 55 percent of the total red-making grape, the Clairette making up 35 percent of white. Combined 8-10 thousand winemakers, spread over an enormous 170,000 acres, produce 450 million bottles, 75 percent of which is devoted to the northern full-bodied of Côte Rôtie and the southern fruity reds of Châteauneuf du Pape.
One village in particular, Chartreuse de Valbonne, enjoys a very different climate from that of the surrounding Mediterranean. Enfolded by forest atop horseshoe-shaped hills, there are numberless terraces composed of stony chalk and limestone. Some barrels of the area date back to the 13th century. Here are made plump Grenache Noir, spicy Syrah and Viognier Plump with aromas of violet and acacia honey.
Considered among the best of the Côtes du Rhône villages are the distinctive Cairanne and Rasteau. Rasteau’s tannic Domaine du Trapadis will be preferred by those seeking a more zesty wine, while Cairanne’s softer Domaine Catherine Le Goeuil —made with techniques handed down from the Middle Ages— is appreciated by the easy-going.
From the 11,000 acres of the Côtes du Rhône villages clay and stony limestone earth rise Grenache and Syrah grapes that produce 19 million bottles of medium body fruity reds.
The history of Gigondas wine traces back to the Romans, where good advantage is taken of the Mediterranean weather and the red clay soil to produce an aromatic alternative to the more expensive Châteauneuf du Pape. On 3,000 acres vintners produce the Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre that go to make 5.5 million bottles.
For those whose tongue needs a little shock of pleasure seek out the Vignobles Darriaud’s Grenache Syrah, a full-bodied red with earthy and plummy aromas. Chocolate tones combine with a peppery finish, especially after aging for 3-5 years.
Best for last, the slope of Châteauneuf du Pape, lying between Orange and Avignon, was once the summer home of many Popes. The wine is thick, powerful and a richly colored red made from Grenache, Syrah, Clairette and ten other varieties. On these 7,600 acres of quartz and sandy red clay grow the vines that produce 13 million bottles that can age up to 20 years with aromas of red fruits, cinnamon and vanilla.
But, who among us could wait that long?