In light of CellarVie Wines’ focus on Rhône and following our interview with renowned winemaker Jean-Luc Colombo, we thought we would take a closer look at the region and its places of interest. The first cultivated vines in the iconic Rhône wine region in Southern France, was planted around 600 BC and subsequently now produces numerous wines under various Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) designations, the most famous being the Côtes du Rhône AOC.
The Rhône is France’s second largest quality wine region after Bordeaux and is generally divided into two sub-regions, each of which is famed for their distinct vinicultural traditions.
The northern region, which starts near Vienne, produces red wines using almost exclusively the Syrah grape, the Southern region, starting at Avignon, is where Châteauneuf-du-Pape is made, and is dominated by the Grenache variety, but increasingly a veritable miscellany of varieties including Cinsault, Syrah, Carignan, Mourvedve and Cabernet.
Northern Rhône houses some of the finest vineyards in the world, Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage, Crôzes-Hermitage, Condrieu, St Joseph and Cornas, and so touring the region is a wonderfully educational and enlightening experience for any wine lover or indeed just those in search of some Mediterranean sun.
While southern Rhone is dominated by the aforementioned appellation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the likes of Beaumes de Venise, Vacqueyras and Gigondas have all emerged with great credit in the past few years.
Steeped in history, Rhône needn’t been reserved for the wine aficionado. Once one of the well-trodden political routes in Western Europe, the river was used by a long succession of inhabitants from the Phoenicians and Greeks to the Romans and there is a subsequently a plethora of beautiful towns to visit that reflect the region’s prominent historical positioning in France.
The town of Orange, found towards the north-east of the Vaucluse department of Provence and north of Avignon, is famed for its two monuments of Roman architecture, the Ancient Theatre and the Triumphal Arch, and is very much worth seeing in the flesh. Avignon houses the Palais des Papes, which remains one of the most important medieval Gothic buildings in the whole of Europe, while the Roman Pont du Gard, located in Vers-Pont-du-Gard near Remoulins, is a simply stunning aqueduct constructed by the Romans that crosses the Gard River.
Lyon remains one of the country’s gastronomic highlights, saturated with Michelin starred restaurants amid the captivating medieval quarter. The Fourvière Basilica overlooking the town was built at the end of the 19th century by architect Pierre Bossan and another example of the region's rich cultural history.
While Rhône will always be associated with the excellent winemaking traditions of France, the region itself boasts an embarrassment of attractions for visitors keen to extent their experience outside its well-documented wine history.
[Main image courtesy of Rob Alter]