The Rhône is generally categorized into three regions: the northern appellations, the southern appellations, and the uncategorized remainder in both the north and south, which is the Côtes du Rhône AOC. The northern portion makes much less wine, and it is considered higher-quality, from the world’s primary expression of Viognier to many of the world’s best Syrahs.
This page is a jumping off point for the seven subregions of the northern Rhône, listed below.
- Condrieu: The famed Condrieu, where varietal Viognier is brought to top levels, is the Rhône’s answer to the Loire’s Vouvray and Burgundy’s Montrachet. Exclusive although not overly expensive compared to much of their competition, the unusual, distinctive white wines are shaped by the one-of-a-kind soil of the appellation.
- Château-Grillet: The exclusive Condrieu region contains an even more optimum appellation known as Château-Grillet. A monopole owned by the eponymous producer, it is one of the few world-famous single-producer vineyards outside of Burgundy. Less than 1,000 cases of pure, brilliant Viognier are produced here every year.
- Cornas: Made in a hot climate from varietal Syrah, the darkly colored wines of Cornas provide rich, cooked, liqueur-like flavors. Underrated due to the immense prowess of the wines of neighboring appellations, these wines offer reasonable prices and highly consistent quality.
- Côte-Rôtie: The world-famous Côte-Rôtie appellation produces many of the world’s best warm-climate wines every year. Although fog and rain are common, the appellation is very hot because of the way the sunlight bakes the slopes of the vineyards. In fact, Côte-Rôtie translates to “roasted slope” in English. The wines made are known for their fresh, ripe red fruit flavors and subtle nuances of minerals and herbs. Mixed in with the Syrah, Viognier can often create delightful floral scents. Despite the commonness of the practice of blending together red and white grapes, no white wines are made.
- Crozes-Hermitage: Crozes-Hermitage is a region with a troubled reputation. Size and the consequent overproduction are the main problems; however, the good side is that many Hermitage producers make a second wine here, and the appellation’s wines are improving. Strong, dense varietal Syrah makes up the red production, while good whites are made from Marsanne and Roussanne.
- Hermitage: Hermitage was classically considered the best appellation of the northern Rhône, but in recent decades Côte-Rôtie has caught up in many ways. However, Hermitage is still one of the best appellations in France, with the best wines generally reaching world-class levels. Many serious believers think that Syrah makes its best wines here, and indeed, they combine richness, power of flavor, and subtle texture in a way that few other Syrahs can replicate. White Hermitage, made from Marsanne and Roussanne, is only made in tiny proportions to the red, but is considered either equally good or better!
- St-Joseph: St-Joseph occupies a similar market segment to Cornas and also makes similar wines, with rich, black, concentrated flavors that are exorbitantly powerful in the first few years of age. However, the best St-Josephs become more mellow and intriguing with cellaring.
- St-Péray: This appellation is the dark horse of the northern Rhône, producing Champagne-style fizzes that are similar neither to the reds nor to the whites of the rest of the region. Most wines are of medium quality, but there are a few good ones.