The Rhone wine region might very well be the home of some of the oldest vineyards in the world. This region experienced somewhat of a renaissance in the 1930's, and today it competes in popularity with some of the more well-known and appreciated wine regions in France, including the prestigious Bourgogne and Bordeaux regions. The varied topography and climate of the Rhone region lends especially well to growing a variety of grapes, thereby allowing growers to produce a wide variety of wines.
The Ancient Rhone Wine Region
The southern portion of the Rhone wine region planted vineyards as early as the 4th century B.C. As the Romans made their way into France and founded the city of Vienne, they began the arduous task of planting these vineyards and shipping the wine produced back to the wealthy and elite citizens of the Roman Empire. However, with the collapse of the Empire, these vineyards fell into disrepair, and sat idle for most of a millennium.
As the Dark Ages drew to a close and Catholicism rose to power, their taste for excellent wines led to a rejuvenation of the Rhone wine region. The northern vineyards were established closer to the 1st century B.C. Though well capable of producing excellent wines, Rhone was overshadowed by the more popular and notable regions of Bourgogne and Bordeaux.
The Rhone Wine Country Rejuvenated
In the 1930's, a wine grower named Baron Le Roy of the Rhone region became one of the most influential people in establishing guidelines to assure the quality and consistency of French wines. He successfully championed to limit the growing areas, varieties of grapes grown, methods of cultivation, and the minimum alcohol content of the wines. His activism led to an increased awareness of Rhone wines. Between the 1960's and 1980's, connoisseurs looking for new and interesting wines began paying more attention to Rhone, and its popularity has steadily improved since. As French river cruises came into vogue, even more wine lovers discovered the secrets hidden amid the ancient vineyards here.
The Rhone Wine Country Today
The southern part of the Rhone wine region encompasses topography ranging from high mountain peaks to deep valleys. Similar to the typical Mediterranean climate, the southern part of the region experiences mild winters and sometimes brutally hot summers. This variation in temperature, altitude, sunlight, and rain allows southern growers to produce a plethora of red and white grapes, and this variation has given them a tendency to produce mixed wines, showcasing their wide range of flavors and bouquets. For example, the Chateauneuf du Pape is comprised of no fewer than 13 different types of grapes!
The Cotes du Rhone wines of the south -- including a variety of reds, whites, and rose -- are often exquisite, but the quality of these wines is quite varied. It's common for people who have shunned the Cotes du Rhone wines to find one they are particularly fond of when visiting the area via French river cruises. But aside from these accidentally-discovered treasures, Cotes du Rhone hasn't caught on as well as the more popular wines of the Rhone region, like the un-aged whites of Condrieu or the varied reds and whites of Chateauneuf du Pape.
The northern region is comparatively much cooler, experiencing sometimes severe winters and mild summers. This region is well-suited to growing Syrah, and indeed, most of the northern Rhone wines are reds. Syrah is featured prominently in these wines, notably the Cote Rotie and Hermitage wines, which are known for their rich, complex flavors and the ability to age extremely well. These desirable wines tend to be on the expensive side, but their quality is consistently extraordinary.
With all of the variation, rich history, and spectacular countryside, it is little wonder that the world eventually found and embraced the Rhone wine region.
AmaWaterways offers French river cruises featuring stops in all of the renowned wine regions of France, including the historied Rhone wine region. Not only can you visit these ancient vineyards and sample their delectable wines, you can see the stunning mountains, valleys, and rivers, including the Rhone, that make wine growing possible here.