The Rhone Valley in France, appears very much like Italy as it stretches 200 km (125 mi) from south of Lyon to just south of Avignon. Along this course the climate varies from the Rhone Valley’s cold winters and warm Rhone Castle Francesummers to the classic Mediterranean climate where winters are mild and summers are hot.
The relatively continuous sun combines with the granitic soil in the north and limestone in the south to produce Grenache, Carignan and Syrah used to produce red wines, and Clairette, Grenache Blanc and Ugni Blanc for white wines.
The Grenache vines dominate the vineyards with 55 percent of the total red wine-making grape, with the Clairette making up 35 percent of white. A total of 8-10 thousand wineries, spread over an vast 170,000 acres, produce 450 million bottles, 75 percent of which is devoted to the northern full-bodied wines of Côte Rôtie and the southern fruity red wines of Châteauneuf du Pape.
One village in particular, Chartreuse de Valbonne, enjoys a very different local climate from that of the surrounding Mediterranean. Surrounded by forests atop horseshoe-shaped hills, there are countless terraces composed of stony chalk and limestone. Some wine barrels in the area date back to the 13th century. Grenache Noir, Viognier and spicy Syrah with aromas of violet and acacia honey.
Considered among the best of the Côtes du Rhône French wine region are the distinctive Rasteau and Cairanne. Rasteau’s tannic Domaine du Trapadis is favored by those preferring a more zesty wine, while Cairanne’s softer Domaine Catherine Le Goeuil —made with techniques handed down since the Middle Ages— is appreciated by those who like a more easy-going wine.
On the 11,000 acres of the Côtes du Rhône villages clay and stony limestone earth cultivate Grenache and Syrah grapes that produce 19 million bottles of medium body fruity red wines.
The history of Gigondas wine dates back to Roman times, 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 harvest the Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah grapes that go to make 5.5 million bottles.
For those whose tongue needs a little excitement seek out the Vignobles Darriaud’s Grenache Syrah, a full-bodied red wine with earthy and plummy aromas. In addition, chocolate tones combine with a peppery finish, especially after aging for 3 to 5 years.
Last, but probably best, the slope of Châteauneuf du Pape,lying between Avignon and Orange, was once the summer home of many Popes. The wine is thick, vigorous and a richly colored red made from Grenache, Clairette, Syrah and ten other varieties. On these 7,600 acres of sandy red clay and quartz grow the grapevines that produce 13 million bottles that can age up to 20 years and give aromas of red fruits, vanilla and cinnamon.
But, who among us would want to wait that long?