For wine purposes, the Rhône is generally divided into three sections: Côtes du Rhône, the Northern Rhône, and the Southern Rhône. While the Côtes provides the bulk of the Rhône’s everyman wine, and the northern portion often makes the best boutique and collectible styles, the southern Rhône falls in between. There are a number of famous appellations here, but the mainstay of the southern Rhône is the world-famous, massive Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation.
There are a dozen appellations in the southern Rhône; this page is a jumping off point for them.
- Beaumes de Venise: Beaumes de Venise is a good appellation for both the fortified wine made within its borders (known as Muscat de Beaumes de Venise) and Grenache-based red wines.
- Châteauneuf-du-Pape: The great Châteauneuf region is famous for its combination of quality and quantity. French for “the Pope’s new castle”, if you were wondering, the historical appellation was the first to be officially regulated. The high number of wines produced means competition, which drives down prices; in fact, Châteauneuf-du-Pape contains a substantial portion of the world’s wine bargains. Some of the wines are nothing more than well-valued. But the best examples, made mostly from Grenache, are absolutely great, able to compete with the top cuvées of the northern Rhône, and at a much lower price.
- Côtes du Luberon: A large appellation, with wines made generally from Grenache. The wines are rarely better than simple Côtes du Rhône, but are inexpensive and can provide fun, spicy flavors.
- Côtes du Ventoux: The large, historical appellation of Côtes du Ventoux generally makes reds from the “Rhône 5” (GSM, Cinsaut, and Carignan) that are typical Rhône styles.
- Côtes du Vivarais: This small, decade-old appellation is for reds from Syrah and Grenache, as well as some good rosés and whites. The fresh wines are best drunk young.
- Gigondas: Fat, earthy, really characterful wine is made from Grenache here; some supplementary varieties are blended in, but for the most part Grenache gives this wine its definitive character. While they usually aren’t world-class, the wines of Gigondas are very consistent; by comparison, Châteauneuf might have more great wines, but they also have more bad ones!
- Grignan-Les Adhemar: Formerly Coteaux du Tricastin; these are mostly good, simplistic reds.
- Lirac: This appellation for red Grenache has a cool climate and a long history. Nestled between famous appellations, Lirac makes easy-drinking, sweetly fruited reds and some good rosés and whites for bargain prices.
- Rasteau: Rasteau produces varietal Grenache fortified red wine that is completely unique and as a result quite coveted. The dry reds made are classified as Côtes du Rhône.
- Tavel: Tavel is the best region in the Rhône for rosé, having been making pink wine for centuries. Made mostly from Grenache and Cinsaut, these bright, well-flavored rosés are easy to drink and can age as well.
- Vacqueyras: Underrated, spicy wines, similar to those of Gigondas. Vacqueyras wines remain rather unpopular considering their good pedigrees and low prices, but they are gaining in market share. Warm, with lots of spice and herb flavors, the wines are less powerful but more elegant than those of Gigondas. Almost entirely red Grenache; however, there are a few good white wines.
- Vinsobres: Vinsobres was just recently made into an AOC; up until 2006, it was a part of the greater Côtes du Rhône. The distinctively aromatic wines are based on Syrah, which is unusual for the southern portion of the Rhône, and are already becoming popular.