Buying guide for Rhône Valley: Syrah, Viognier, Marsanne/Rousanne and probably the first wine region of France
The ancient valley is a sanctuary for not only Syrah/Shiraz lovers but also for Grenache red blend aficionados (GSM). The region's wine history can be traced back to 600 BC. It was reestablished by the Catholic Church, with its new headquarters based in Avignon, in the 13th century. Their popularity grew so fast that the Duke of Burgundy banned their wine, belittling them and branded them as poorly made. History never mentioned if this ban was just an attempt to jugulate a value-driven competitor. Nonetheless, the region created 2 styles of winemaking: The Northern style, close to the “Burgundy single varietal” spirit, with their Syrah red (although white usually blends, except in Condrieu), while the Southern Rhône adapted more of a Bordeaux approach by blending grapes, featuring Grenache as the main star. The latter style is becoming very trendy in California and seems to represent the future of this region's red blend. Within the Rhône Valley, each village brings an interesting story and profile.
Northern Rhône: birthplace and best Syrah/Shiraz, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. Notorious thanks to famous negociants such as E.Guigual and Chapoutier, the Northern Rhône Valley regroups emblematic villages where price significantly varies from mid-range to high. Côtes Rôtie (made of Syrah with optional 10% Viognier from Condrieu), Condrieu (Viognier) and further south Hermitages (Syrah for red, Marsanne/Roussane for white) incarnate the most expensive wines of this sub region. Why are they expensive and is it worth it? Absolutely! And here is why. Unlike other regions where price is driven by the offer and demand of the market, vines are planted onto a cliff so steep that producers need to build handmade terraces. In the best case scenarios, 3 or 4 rows can be planted and can only be farmed by hand. Out of a hectare (2 ½ acres), they usually sourced fruits to produce 2,000 bottles while they invested half a million dollars (USD) in masonry. It is easy math to understand that vintners have no choice but to ask a fair price. The reward lies in their unique terroir and purely handcrafted gems that will enlighten any occasion when you pop open a bottle. The best French wine exemplifying these types of vineyards begins with the stunning wine made by Martin Clerc from both Condrieu and Côtes Rôtie. If you are going for more affordable village, Cornas will be the most expensive while Saint Joseph and Crozes-Hermitages will hit the sweet spot. Most of the parcels can be handled with machineries and that helps lower the cost of production. This is why you can stop by Domaine Michelas Saint Jemms and discover their Crozes-Hermitages selection.
Southern Rhône: many villages beyond Chateauneuf du Pape. While the latter is undoubtedly the most famous village of all, there is so much more to experience in this wonderful region. If you go east to Gigondas, Chateauneuf’s main contender, known for its robust body and wide range of flavors, you will arrive in a cluster of fantastic villages: Seguret, Vacqueyras, Sablet, Rasteau and so many more. It is Ali Baba’s cave and every small winery could bring you a stunning experience. The profile of wine made in this region almost always blends with Grenache Noir as the lead varietal for red and Grenache Blanc as the lead varietal for white. Mas des Flauzieres incarnates this spirit and their declination of village is impressive. Fantastic value for wine that can easily goes with a wide spectrum of cuisine.