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Description to Rhône

Over 800 kilometres long, the Rhône is one of the most important wine rivers in the world. Like all watercourses, it has a positive effect on viticulture and creates the conditions for this by forming valley slopes, some of which are very steep. The river rises at the Furka Pass as a glacial stream in the Swiss Alps of Uri, flows through the canton of Valais and Lake Geneva under the name Rotten, crosses the French border, turns south from Lyon and flows into the Mediterranean south of Arles-sur-Rhône. In the 6th century BC, the Greeks founded the Rhône. The Greeks founded the city of Marseille (Massilia) at the mouth of the Rhône in the 6th century BC and brought the grapevine to the valley. The Celts (Gauls) also cultivated vines in what are now the Côte Rôtie and Hermitage appellations (Crozes-Hermitage). It is said that they taught the Romans the art of refinement.

The Roman scholar Pliny the Elder (23-79) reports on a grape variety called Allobrogica, which was allegedly cultivated here by the Celtic tribe of Allobroges. At the beginning of the second century, the area became part of the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis. Many finds of amphorae, statues of the wine god Bacchus and mosaics with wine motifs bear witness to Roman viticulture. Many exhibits are on display in the "Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine" in Lyon. At the beginning of the 14th century, the papal court was moved to Avignon, where seven popes reigned from 1309 to 1377. This gave a strong boost to viticulture, as the majority of the wine served at the papal table came from the Rhône Valley. The name Châteauneuf-du-Pape is derived from the castle of Pope John XXII (1245-1334), which he had built as a summer residence north of Avignon.

The Rhône wine-growing region

The Rhône wine-growing region or "La Vallée du Rhône" refers to the approximately 200 kilometre stretch from Lyon southwards to Avignon in south-east France. There are around 80,000 hectares of vineyards on both sides of the Rhône and its tributaries, spread across the six départements of Ardèche, Drôme, Gard, Loire, Rhône and Vaucluse. But only a small area in the far north lies in the Rhône department and, surprisingly, 70% of the production of its northern neighbour Burgundy comes from this area. For over 150 kilometres, the Rhône runs parallel to the Loire, which gave the eastern region its name. The two rivers are only around 50 kilometres apart along this stretch, but flow in opposite directions.

The elongated region is divided into "Rhône Septentrional" (septentrional = north) and "Rhône Méridional" (méridional = south). The two sections are very different in terms of climate, soil and grape varieties. What they do have in common, however, is the mistral, a cold and dry north wind, against which many vineyards are lined with cypresses and poplars. The wines from the left (eastern) bank are generally considered to be heavier and richer in alcohol. In total, over 90% red wines are produced by 6,000 wineries in the region, the rest are rosé wines and only very small quantities of white wines.

nördliche Rhône - im Hintergrund Hermitage

Northern Rhône

This region begins at the town of Vienne, close to the three appellations Château-Grillet, Condrieu and Côte Rôtie. It stretches straight south to the town of Valence with the Cornas and Saint-Péray appellations. The climate is continental and the soils are mostly made up of slate and granite. The vineyards are often located on extremely steep terraced slopes with gradients of up to 65° (214%). Some areas are among the steepest vineyards in Europe. The Romans had their slaves carry out the extremely arduous cultivation. Syrah dominates here and is the only authorised red wine grape. The most important white wine varieties are Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier. For the most part, dark and tannin-rich red wines are also produced in larger quantities as single-varietal wines. These are often matured classically, i.e. less in new oak. Less than 10% of the wine volume is produced in the northern section.

Middle Rhône

Further south, there is a gap of around 50 kilometres in the course of the river with no vineyards. However, further to the east there is an area on the Drôme tributary of the Rhône that is sometimes referred to as the middle section. The four appellations Châtillon-en-Diois, Clairette de Die, Coteaux de Die and Crémant de Die, each named after a municipality, are located here and have a very old sparkling wine production.

Southern Rhône

This area begins at Montélimar and extends southwards to Avignon in the department of Vaucluse. Compared to the northern section, the climate is Mediterranean and the soils consist mainly of limestone subsoil interspersed with clay. There are many cave coopératives here, which produce around two thirds of the volume. Here, too, mainly red wines are produced, the most important variety being Grenache Noir (Garnacha Tinta). Around 20 grape varieties are authorised, resulting in many cuvées of different wine styles. Other red wine varieties are Carignan Noir, Cinsaut, Mourvèdre and increasingly Syrah, as in the northern section. The typical blend here is known as the Rhône recipe.

Rhône - südliche Rhône - Châteauneuf-du-Pape

The southern section is dominated by the regional appellation Côtes du Rhône (which also includes smaller areas in the northern section) and the Côtes du Rhône-Villages class, which is only found here. One of the best-known appellations is the aforementioned Châteauneuf-du-Pape area. A speciality is the Tavel area, which is exclusively approved for rosé wines. Sweet vin doux naturel are produced in the Beaumes-de-Venise and Rasteau areas. Somewhat more remote appellations are Côtes du Vivarais, Grignan-les-Adhémar, Luberon and Ventoux. The Costières de Nîmes appellation, which is geographically part of the Languedoc but legally part of the Rhône, lies to the far south. This group is also known as the "Nouvelle École de la Vallée du Rhône" (New School of the Rhône Valley). A total of 16 areas have the regional status of "Cru", which means the rank of a top Rhône appellation. In a broader sense, they belong to the Côtes du Rhône appellation, which is why the label also states "Cru des Côtes du Rhône".

The Rhône appellations

Rhône - Landkarte mit allen Appellationen
Northern Rhône: From PRA, CC BY 2.5, Link
southern Rhône: By jean-louis zimmermann, CC BY 2.0, Lien
Map: By DalGobboM in Wikipedia - Own work, GFDL, Link

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