Rhône Valley wine: an expert guide and the best bottles to buy

A guide to Rhône Valley wine

The Rhône Valley is France’s second-largest wine producing region after Bordeaux. The river flows due south from Lyon to the city of Avignon near the Mediterranean and its valley is divided into two distinct wine regions.

The Northern Rhône is the most prestigious, producing serious, tannic wines capable of long ageing, often commanding high prices. It has some of the oldest vineyards in France, and some of the hardest to cultivate, with very steep slopes that are incredibly hard to work, and where everything has to be done by hand. Syrah is the only red grape here – meaty and savoury with a characteristic black pepper spiciness, the best coming from esteemed crus such as St-Joseph, Hermitage and Cornas. In Côte-Rôtie, the syrah is often grown and co-fermented with a few white grapes which add aromatic floral notes that entwine beautifully with its brambly fruit.

The Southern Rhône, with a hotter climate and flatter terrain, is a much larger area, producing around 95% of the Rhône Valley’s wine. The most famous appellation is Châteauneuf-du-Pape, so named because Pope Clement V moved to
Avignon in 1309 and oversaw the planting of vineyards, paving the way for today’s wine culture here. Wines simply labelled Côtes du Rhône are from the less celebrated vineyards, while Côtes du Rhône Villages wines have stricter quality
controls and tend to offer great value for money.

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Reds are usually GMS blends (grenache, mourvèdre, syrah), although cinsault, carignan and other grapes are also grown. Viognier, marsanne and roussanne are the leading white grapes throughout the area, often blended with each other, making voluptuous, aromatic and quite weighty wines. While there are many variations in power, elegance and aromatics
in Rhône wines, nearly all share the characteristic of what’s known as garrigue – the low scrubland found across the region, with vegetation including juniper, thyme and rosemary that seem to infuse the wines, giving them a wild, herbaceous quality that is really attractive and goes so well with Mediterranean food.

Best Rhône Valley wines to buy

Gabriel Meffre Côtes du Rhône

Grenache blanc, viognier and roussanne are blended here to make a white with the classic Rhône characteristics – luscious with notes of tangerine peel, honeysuckle, pears, almonds and honey – at an affordable price. Rounded and opulent but still elegant, this cries out for rich food with creamy textures. A great wine for roast chicken or fish pie.

Gabriel Meffre copy

Tavel Cuvée Prima Donna Rosé, Domaine Maby 2022

Tavel is a rosé-only appellation in the Southern Rhône, making distinctive dark pink wines with body and flavour that are closer to red wine than to pale Provençal rosés. This grenache-cinsault blend is one of my favourites – crunchy cranberry and raspberry fruit with rose petals, wild herbs and a refreshing pink grapefruit acidity. These wines are really versatile but especially good with spicy or tomato-based dishes.


Les Caveau du Prieuré Vinsobres

Vinsobres is the most northerly cru in the Southern Rhône, with a little more altitude than the regions to the south. This brings some freshness to the rich, glossy fruit in this powerful grenache, syrah and mourvèdre blend that’s perfumed and silky, with attractive vanilla and warm, spicy notes. It’s great with robust, meaty dishes, especially if they contain garlic, black olives and/or Mediterranean herbs, and is perfect for a barbecue if served slightly chilled.

Les Caveau du Prieuré Vinsobres

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