The Southern Rhône is dominated by two contrasting appellations: Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Côtes-du-Rhône. The former is weighty and expensive, an esoteric blend of up to 13 grapes that is amongst the most famous and finest wines in the world (however spurious its papal connections). The latter is a vast area of 40,000ha where cheerful everyday wine is pumped out for the masses.Read More
Their coexistence sums up the variety on offer in this large and important winemaking area, where whites, reds, rosés and vins doux naturels (fortified sweet wines) are all produced for both quantity and quality. Gigondas, Lirac and Côtes du Lubéron are other notable appellations.
The 13 grapes permitted in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and still all used by the Château de Beaucastel estate, are Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Counoise, Vaccarèse, Terret Noir, Muscardin (all red), Bourboulenc, Clairette, Roussanne, Picardin and Picpoul (all white). Grenache will usually be dominant. Elsewhere in the district Carignan, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Viognier, Gamay, Pinot Noir, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, Chardonnay, Aligoté, Ugni Blanc and Vermentino all crop up as well.
It is impossible to generalise about such a large and diverse district, but the top reds do not usually need to be aged for as long as those of the Northern Rhône and the whites should be drunk young.
It has a Mediterranean climate, and the heat is ideal for some of the grapes, but vineyards rise to 450m above sea level where the cooler conditions are more suited to others. Hence the vast array of vines that are cultivated on land that is much flatter than the steep slopes of the Northern Rhône. Summers are dry, winters are wet and cold, and soils are very varied.
At the turn of the century - 2001, 2000 and 1999 - the Southern Rhône was producing superb wines and since then (with the exception of the poor 2002) the vintages have been very good. 1990 and 1989 were excellent years.