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P-Rhone to Misunderstanding

Vast, various, value.

Wow - it's been a few months since our last blog. Sorry! It's certainly been a busy few months since our last post in June. We've had the opening of our shop in Ashburton in July, 2 new team members join us, 9 separate tasting events and of course the summer holidays. Phew.

But this blog is really about filling everyone in on some of the info we shared during our Rhone tastings over the past couple of weeks. It's such a crazy region, that we thought we'd boil it down to just 6 facts that you really need to know to get the best out of the place. Here you go then, in no particular order:

  1. It's really actually two regions. It's a little disingenuous to lump the whole of the Rhone together, because the Northern Rhone and the Southern Rhone produce very different wines from very different grapes. Northern Rhone styles are generally more expensive, and fresher and lighter in style (for the reds, anyway) whereas the South produces fleshier, more powerful wines in larger quantities.
  2. It's BIG! In fact, it's the second largest wine region in France, behind the Languedoc. It directly and indirectly employs 50,000 people and produces €1.5 billion worth of wine a year. Much of this reaches us in the UK, with 6% of their entire production reaching us. This makes us their single largest market outside of France. Most of it is generic Cotes-du-Rhone, but increasingly, you'll see a lot more of the named appellations: Chateauneuf-du-Pape of course, but also Rasteau, Gigondas, Nimes, Cornas and so on.
  3. It's not just about Red. Although red makes up 81% of its production, you can still find good quality whites and excellent rosé. In fact, the only purely rosé-making appellation in all of France is here: Tavel. They've been making it since the papacy was in Avignon, and it's a bit good. There are also sweet Muscats from Beaumes-de-Venise and even some sparkling. All in all, there's a huge amount of choice.
  4. It's quite complicated. Sadly, this variety does put many people off, for obvious reasons, so they tend to stay with what they know. People see Cotes du Rhone on the label and think they know what they are going to get. But most people don't realise that this label can extend all the way from Nimes in the South to Valence in the North - some 150+ kms apart. It can also include up to 21 different varieties just for the reds! So what are you really drinking? You kind of have to trust the producer and the person selling it to you. But it really could be bright fresh Syrah from the Northern Rhone, or big chunky Grenache from the South.
  5. It's evolving. Of course, there are some very big, traditional areas, but they have been burned like much of the rest of the old world's wine regions by the rise of cheap alternatives from Australia first and then South America. They need to adapt, and they are doing this by specialising - the number of cooperatives is on the decline, while family-owned and higher quality producers are on the rise. Places like Cairanne and Lirac which previously simply went under the Cotes du Rhone Village label are stepping up to AOC status themselves. 
  6. There is value still. Many of these places haven't actually changed their pricing much even after stepping up their quality. Therefore, even as the New World is starting to increase their prices, the Rhone and much of the Old World in general is actually becoming better value. Look for those newer appellations like Lirac, Costieres-de-Nimes, Rasteau, Luberon or Ventoux for examples of what the region can do when they don't have Cote Rotie or Chateauneuf-du-Pape on the label. There's a reason those places are so expensive of course, but the newer areas can still hit a similar spot for much less money.

Coming up on our blog next month will be an insight into the growing trends for retro cocktails - some of which we'll be making together at our tastings in October. Hope to see you there!