A GUIDE TO THE WINES OF THE RHONE REGION AN OVERVIEW OF RHONE WINES This blog post on Rhône wines, the first in a series, can only be an overview – the Rhône wine region is huge and the range of Rhône wines so varied that it is impossible to cover it all in one relatively short article. This guide covers Northern Rhone wines, Southern Rhone wines and their differences, Rhone wine labelling, what Cote du Rhone wines are and the general style of the region’s wines. Since 81% of Rhône Valley wines are red, I’ll focus on red Rhone wines – with the Rhone’s white and rosé wines to be covered at a later date (whites are 6% of production with rosé 13%). The terms Rhône and Rhone are used interchangeably in this blogpost. RHONE WINE STATISTICS First some figures about Rhone wine: there are over 5000 wine-growing businesses in 28 Rhône wine appellations using one or more of 27 permitted grape varieties to produce 3 million hectolitres for c. 372 million bottles of wine*  – and that’s ignoring any IGP or vins de pays wines that fall outside the PDO or appellation system   (read more about protected designations of origin or wine appellations).  Only about 1/3 of Rhone wines are exported, the UK being the largest overseas market with 18% of the exports. Ten per cent of the vineyard area is organic, 50% certified & 50% in the process of becoming certified.  *(2016 figures from Inter Rhône) WHERE IS THE RHONE WINE REGION? The Rhone region is in South West France. Traditionally we think of the vineyards immediately surrounding the Rhone river between Vienne just south of Lyon and Avignon as the Rhone wine region but the Rhone Valley expands east, west and south to include 7 regional AOCs such as Luberon, Ventoux and Costières de Nîmes that sit between and are therefore sometimes mistakenly considered to be part of Provence or the Languedoc-Roussillon wine regions. Including these 7 “other” Rhone appellations makes the Rhone Valley France’s second largest wine region and its second biggest exporting AOC wine region. Excluding those 7 regional appellations, the Rhone wine region is traditionally split into Northern and Southern Rhone and their wines have some differences mainly due to the variations in climate so I’ll next look briefly at the two sub-regions. And then I’ll try to make sense of the myriad of Rhone wine labels. NORTHERN RHONE WINE & ITS WINES Known as Rhône septentrional, the Northern Rhone is characterised by vineyards on steep slopes next to the river Rhône and by its cool continental climate. Though it produces a smaller percentage of Rhone wines than Southern Rhone, the Northern Rhone produces most of the premium appellations like Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, Saint Joseph and Condrieu. The vast majority of wines produced are red and Syrah is the only permitted black grape variety for AOC wines although most may add a small percentage of white wine, often Viognier for its perfume. The small percentage of white wines produced can be made from Marsanne, Roussanne and / or Viognier though the most famous white, Condrieu is Viognier only. Saint Péray is a sparkling white appellation produced from Marsanne and Roussanne. The general Northern Rhone red wine profile is dark colour, medium body (though Hermitage is fuller-bodied  and Saint Joseph lighter), relatively high tannins though in good wines the tannins will be soft and balanced with the sweetness of the fruit and the acidity. Aromas and flavours include black fruit, black pepper, spice, olives, smoky bacon and sometimes floral aromas. Oak is often used but the effect on the wine will depend on the length of time the wine is in oak, whether it is new or old oak and whether large vats or small barrels are used. SOUTHERN RHONE WINE & ITS WINES Southern Rhone, known as Rhône meridional, is much bigger, flatter,  warmer with a more Mediterranean climate and has a wider range of wine styles and quality from the more commercial style through to the highest quality like Châteauneuf du Pape. Again most wines produced are red but these wines are usually blends, most often GSM or Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, though many more varieties can be included. As there are so many permitted varieties it is difficult to describe a typical Southern Rhone wine style other than that Grenache is usually the dominant variety and therefore red fruit, warm spice and herb flavours tend to dominate though black fruit flavours may also be evident especially where Mourvèdre is in the blend. Due to the hotter weather alcohol levels can be very high and if the grapes are left on the vine too long the wine can taste jammy. More vigilant winemakers make sure that the alcohol is kept in balance and that the fruit flavours stay fresh. Oak typically is used less – Grenache doesn’t really suit it – but it varies from winemaker to winemaker. Some may choose to mature the Syrah in oak but not the Grenache for example. THE DIFFERENT RHONE WINES & RHONE WINE LABELLING There are 28 appellations (or PDOs) in the Rhone including the 7 regionals mentioned above and 2 fortified wine appellations (vins doux naturels) that I will cover at a later date. Looking at the rest… there are 16 crus across Northern and Southern Rhone for still wine (and Saint Péray for sparkling wines only) and two more general appellations which I put into context below and in the diagram: THE CRUS At the top end of the scale are the 17 crus (cru meaning a wine producing area rather than a single vineyard) which conveniently account for about 17% of production of the whole Rhone Valley region; the crus are the smallest regions with their own specific appellations (ACs or AOCs) and therefore their own specific regulations.  Yields differ from cru to cru but the average of just under 35 hectolitres per hectare for all the cru wines is the lowest yield of the