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Ep 24: TNWG Wine Times: The Rhone in Focus

Following on from our focus week on the Loire region, we now head to the wonderful Northern and Southern Rhone in France.

Source: Wine Folly

The Rhone Valley in wine references is depicted into two clear and distinct regions, namely the northern Rhone - which is a continental climate and has plantings that are predominantly Syrah. Alongside the southern Rhone which has a Mediterranean climate and specialises in Grenache Noir, Syrah, Cinsaut and Mourvedre.

Now whilst I have only mentioned red grape varietals and they are dominant (in 2021 76% red production, 14% rose and 10% white), there is as I've written some white. In the northern Rhone you would see the greats of Viognier (a particular favourite of mine), Marsanne and Roussanne and in the south blends based around Grenache Blanc.

You will also see from the map above, there is a 'no persons' land in between which largely is around 30 miles where little grape growing is done. The River Rhone is the key that runs through the northern and southern regions. On the north side vines are planted on slopes above the river, in the south (where the majority of the grapes are grown - some 65,000 ha vs 4,200 ha in the north) some vines are much further from the river.

Grape Varietals in Focus

🍇 SYRAH - a vigorous varietal, tight training and tying down due to the Mistral wind blowing through the Northern and Southern Rhone. Susceptible as a varietal to mites and botrytis bunch rot as well as Syrah decline (leaves turn red, graft breaks and vine dies). It is deep ruby in colour (much darker than the other varietals), medium to pronounced aromas of violets, plums, blackberries, black pepper and herbal notes. Acidity and tannins from medium to high. Syrah adds structure, fruit and colour.

🍇GRENACHE NOIR - high yielding varietal. Ripens late and can be affected by early autumnal rains. Loves being trained as a bush vine, pruned short as it is also vigorous and is great on dry and low fertility soils. Good drought resistance and prone to coulure as well as the fungal 'favourites' namely downy mildew, phomopsis and botryis bunch rot. Prone to bacterial blight too. The varietal can accumulate high sugar levels quickly. Pale ruby in colour, ripe red fruit (strawberry, red plum, red cherry), spicy and herbal notes, high alcohol, low to medium tannins and low acidity.

🍇 MOURVEDRE - a late budding and late ripening varietal, which really only enjoys warm to hot conditions (I have a lot in common with Mourvedre!!). Towards the end of the season it requires high temps to fully ripen, it is not drought resistant and does require some water. Best pruned short, similarly to the others, can be grown on a cordon system or bush vine system. It only really produces low yields, it is prone to mites, leafhoppers and sour rot. Typically aged in oak, usually always used as a blend in the Rhone. It is a deep ruby colour with intense aromas of blackberries, blueberries and violets, high alcohol and high firm tannins. 

🍇 CINSAUT - another late budding and high yielding variety with good drought and heat resistance. It can suffer chlorosis if the vines are based in soils which have too much lime, it is also prone to Esca and Eutypa as well as mites and grape moths. Typically held in inert vessels to preserve primary fruit flavours. It is a light ruby colour, medium to medium+ aromas of red fruits (raspberry and red cherry), high alcohol and low to medium tannin structure.

🍇 VIOGNIER - an early budding white varietal, prone to spring frost. Grown on trellis or poles to protect from the winds. Low yielding and suffers from coulure. If left too long they can lose flavour and acidity quickly. Medium lemon in colour with pronounced aromas and flavours of honeysuckle, apricot, peach, medium to high alcohol and light acidity. Up to 20% of Viognier is allowed in the northern Rhone red wines.

🍇 MARSANNE - a late budding white varietal but vigorous. Performs best on stony and low fertile soils in an effort to keep the yield productivity lower. It is prone to powdery mildew, mites and botrytis bunch rot. The wines are medium lemon in colour, low intensity honeysuckle, lemon and apricot, oily texture, medium acidity, full body and medium to high alcohol. 

🍇 ROUSSANNE  - a late budding white varietal again best on low fertility soils. Poor resistance to wind, susceptible to coulure, powdery mildew, botrytis bunch rot and mites. Medium lemon in colour, medium to medium+ intensity with aromatics of pear and herbal notes. Medium to medium+ acidity and medium to high alcohol. Normally ages quicker than Marsanne.

🍇 GRENACHE BLANC - early budding and occasionally has a problem with spring frosts but has good wind resistance (unlike Roussanne). Exclusively grown in the southern Rhone, can produce dry whites or Vins Doux Naturels. Low intensity ripe green frit and some floral notes, high alcohol and low acidity.

🍇 CLAIRETTE - a vigorous white variety growing well in low fertility, dry soils once more. Pruned short, wind resistant, it ripens late and so autumn rains are a hazard. It has the aromatics of fennel, apple, grapefruit, white flower, high alcohol and low to medium- acidity.

🍇 BOURBOULENC - a late ripening varietal with thick skins. Resistance to botrytis bunch rot, it is usually found in southern Rhone blends, with aromatics of lemon, medium+ acidity and medium alcohol. 


Typically wines in the Rhone Valley are usually fermented in concrete vats and then small and large wooden vessels for maturation (i.e. fairly traditional methods). Grenache Noir is the one to watch, which is prone to loss of colour if it oxidises. Syrah more prone to reduction and therefore needs pumping over more often and then aged in oak.

Grape harvesting for Red Cru Level wines is by hand, typically then destemmed, chilled and cold soaked for 1-3 days. Although some winemakers may keep them as whole bunches to promote more intense aromatics. Fermentation at warm temps to enhance extraction of colour, flavour and tannin. Maceration on skins may last as much as 20-30 days, with maturation in bottle typical of 12-24 months.

In Tavel, which is known for its rose wines, there is likely to be only a short maceration, with grapes pressed after a cold maceration on skins for up to 48hrs, then fermented as per white wines.

Key Appellations from North to South in Rhone

Northern Rhone

🍇 Cote-Rotie AOC - most northernly, producing only red wines. Steep sloped, often terraced and sheltered. Single or double Guyot trained and tied to posts (locally called echalas). Cote-Rotie at one stage had only 70ha in the 1970s but now has 250ha planted. All made from Syrah with upto 20% Viognier. Planting densities of 10,000 vines per hectare are typical. Max yield allowed is 40 hl/ha. Typically known for pronounced aromas, softer and less full bodied than Hermitage and Cornas AOCs.

🍇 Condrieu AOC - wines must be 100% Viognier and max yield is 41 hl/ha. Steep, rocky slopes often terraced. Surrounding Chateau Grillet AOC. Most is stainless steel fermented.

🍇Saint-Joseph AOC - a long appellation running from Condrieu to Cornas. Nearly 90% of the AOC is red. Max yield is 40hl/ha. Stainless steel and large oak for fermenting, ageing in larger tanks/barrels.

🍇 Hermitage AOC - the hill of Hermitage above the town of Tan L'Hermitage. A small appellation (137ha) with one third white wine. Pronounced flavour intensity, high tannins in reds. Le Meal is one of the most highly regarded Syrah wines. Max yields at 40hl/ha (45 hl/ha for whites). Whites typically a blend of Marsanne and Roussanne. Wines typically aged on lees for 10-12 months - after long bottle ageing it produces rich, creamy and nutty flavours. Holdings are dominated by Chapoutier and Jaboulet and the co-op Cave de Tain.

🍇Crozes-Hermitage AOC - the largest of the northern appellations (nearly 1,700 ha on the left bank of the Rhone). North sector is a continental climate, southern more temperate. Steep slopes in the north, flatter in the south. Max yield 45hl/ha. Whites just 9% of production. 

🍇Cornas - Warm Mediterranean climate, only red wine made from 100% Syrah. Max yield is 40hl/ha. Small appellation of 145ha. Tannic intense wines.

🍇 Saint-Peray AOC - Slightly cooler climate. White wines grown on limestone and granite soils. Marsanne accounts for majority with some Roussanne. Max yield 45hl/ha. Some wines are aged on lees for 10-12 months. 

Southern Rhone

🍇Cotes du Rhone AOC - second large appellation in France after Bordeaux AOC. Red and rose wines max yield 51hl/ha with Grenache Noir, Mourvedre and Syrah making up a min of 60% of final blend. White wines max yield 51hl/ha with Bourboulenc, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussane and Viognier making up 80% of the blend. 

🍇Cotes du Rhone Village AOC - requires the final blend to have a min of 66% of at least 2 of 3 principal varieties and must include Grenache Noir. Max yields are 44hl/ha. 

🍇Cotes du Rhone Village AOC + named village - max yields are lower with 35hl/ha in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, 36-38hl/ha in other villages. 

Cotes du Rhone are typically medium intensity ruby, red plum and blackberry fruit, medium acidity, medium alcohol and medium tannins.

🍇Gigondas AOC - AOC in 1971, upto 600m above sea level. Partly shaded by the Dentelles de Montmirail mountains which aids the temperature in the mornings and extends maturation. Blends of at least 50% Grenache Noir and at least one of Syrah or Mourvedre. Whites based on Clairette (min 70%) from 2023.

🍇Vacqueyras AOC - AOC in 1990, upto 440m, min 50% Grenache Noir.

🍇Vinsobres AOC - AOC in 2006, most northerly of the South Rhone. Only red wines. Min 50% Grenache Noir plus at least one of Syrah and Mourvedre. 200-500m altitude. 

🍇Rasteau AOC - AOC in 2010 for red wines. Small amount of VDN also produced. Min 50% Grenche Noir plus at least one of Syrah or Mourvedre. 100m latitude in small enclaves to shelter from the Mistral. 

🍇Cairanne AOC - AOC in 2015, not as steep as Gigondas. Mainly fruity red wines, at least 40% Grenache Noir with at least one of Syrah or Mourvedre. 

🍇Beaumes-de-Venise AOC - best known for its VDN, also unfortified red wines. Grenache Noir and Syrah must make up min 50%. 

🍇Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOC - 13 grapes allowed to be used and a min alcohol level of 12.5% ABV without chapitalisation. Red and white wines allowed, although more than 90% is red wine. The red wines are predominantly Grenache Noir, Mourvedre and Syrah with white wines from Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc and Roussanne. Marsanne and Viognier are not permitted. The large AOC (more than 3,000 ha) includes limestone, clay, sandstone and sandy soils. In 2021, 27% of the vineyard was certified organic. Avg yields for the decade are around 30hl/ha. Large pebbles (galets) radiate heat at night. Sandy soil versions are typically finer and lighter. Medium ruby, medium+ to pronounced intensity, ripe red plum and blackberry fruit with spice notes and sometimes new oak. Medium acidity, high alcohol and tannins varying from medium- to high. 

🍇Lirac AOC - Mainly red wines with some rose and white wines. Reds are Grenache Noir, Mourvedre, Syrah and Cinsaut making up a min of 90% in the final blend. 

🍇Tavel AOC - purely rose wines. Allows 12 varietals but final blend must include Grenache Noir. No one principal varietal can be more than 60%. Max yield is 46hl/ha. Medium intensity pink-orange, medium to medium+ intensity of strawberries and raspberries, medium+ to full body and medium alcohol. 

🍇Costieres de Nimes AOC - lies between the Rhone and eastern Languedoc. SW facing slopes, half the production is red and just over 40% is rose. Principal varietals of Grenache Noir, Mourvedre and Syrah which must make up a min of 50%. Max yield is 60hl/ha.

🍇Grignan-les-Adhemar AOC - mainly red blends, northern side of southern Rhone. Min 50% of principal - Grenache Noir and Syrah, slightly lighter.

🍇Ventoux AOC - large and south east of southern Rhone below the high Mont Ventoux. Vines are up at 450m, almost 54% is red, 40% rose. Principals are Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan and Cinsaut which must make up 50% of the blend. Max yield 60hl/ha.

🍇Luberon AOC - south east of Rhone and borders Provence. Pretty flat land. Varietals of Grenache Noir, Syrah and Mourvedre - the final blend should be at least two of these and make up min 50%. Max yield 55hl/ha.

Incidentally, for irrigation to be allowed, there is a requirement to show water stress to the vines, although note no irrigation is allowed after veraison.

Sales for the Rhone region as a whole are between France domestically (63% - supermarkets 40% retail 23%), exports 37% - made from Belgium, UK and USA.

Wines from The Rhone



I do like my sport and beer, so this ended up as a top read. Drinking 604.5 million pints of beer over the Euros in 33 days! That is quite 'impressive'.



On the week (as at 16th May 15:00 LDN) changes:

EQUITIES: ⬆️ FTSE 100 up 0.7%; ⬆️ DAX up 0.4%; ⬆️S&P 500 up 2.5%; ⬆️Nikkei 225 up 0.9%; ⬆️ Dow Jones up 1.9%;

COMMODITIES: Brent Oil flat; ⬆️ Crude Oil up 0.2% ; ⬆️ Gold up 1.9%; ⬆️ Silver up 4.8%; ⬆️ Copper up 6.3%

BONDS (in yield terms): ⬇️ UK 2yrs lower 0.0305%; ⬇️ UK 10yrs lower 0.074%; ⬇️ German 10yrs lower 0.053%, ⬇️ US 2yrs lower 0.037%; ⬇️ US 10yrs lower 0.13%;

This week we have had China property stimulus reaction with Asian equity markets starting to react to measures being placed, coupled with US inflation data. US CPI showed a marginal slowing down year on year of inflation in the US giving rise to markets repricing from 2 to 3 possible interest rate cuts in the US before year end. A little premature in my mind, given that the Fed officials rhetoric, including Powell, has been that inflation overall is still more elevated than they expected after the 1st quarter of the year. The US elections will be a curve ball play on interest rates and currency pricing but until now, the markets focus has not been centred on the Trump vs Biden battle. 

In the UK, a June interest rate cut still seems to be very much on the table although to be the first central bank to pull the trigger on a cut will be a big step and one which no central bank is going to want to get wrong, so for me is now more of a 50/50 call for June rather than a slightly higher percentage likelihood.

All said, US equities continue to drive home their advantage and precious metals are still the places to be long near term.


🧀🍷 The Northern Wine Guy as he hosts a Wine and Cheese Night as part of the Cavendish Cancer Club Event - being held at Lykke in New Era Square in Sheffield on Wednesday 22nd May 2024 from 4pm till 7pm. Cavendish Cancer Care 

🎙️🎙️Wine Podcast releases saw both PASO-PRIMERO UK LTD. and Alice Griffiths aka Posingwithalcohol appear on both The Andy and Olly Show and The Northern Wine Guy Podcast Show this week.

You can find them and the rest of the series here or download them on all social media apps that you listen to podcasts on.

Look out towards the end of the week for a possible EXTRA release given that we will be over at the London Wine Fair next week to sample some new wine styles and producers, alongside seeing a lot of wine friends in attendance.

That's it from me, a little bit of a long one so apologies but we will be back later on next week.

Have a good weekend!

Cheers Andy a.k.a. The Northern Wine Guy🍷

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