Collectors have long flocked to France’s Rhône Valley, home to some of the world’s most iconic vineyard sites, as well as some of the world’s most talented, long-standing producers. With terraced vineyard sites and extreme climate conditions, wines from the Rhône Valley show an immaculate sense of place and serious ability to age in the cellar — though as always, knowing which bottles to lay down is essential.
Where is the Rhône Valley?
The Rhône Valley is located in central to southern France and runs along the eponymous Rhône River. The region is located south of Beaujolais, spanning from the city of Lyon to the Mediterranean Sea.
What kind of wine is made in the Rhône Valley?
Although a relatively small amount of rosé is produced, the Rhône Valley is best known for its robust red and palate-coating white wines. The majority of wines made in the Rhône Valley are still and dry.
What are the subregions of the Rhône Valley?
The Rhône Valley is broken into two parts: the Northern Rhône and Southern Rhône. The Northern Rhône is best known for its Syrah-based reds, though smaller amounts of wine are produced from Viognier, Marsanne, and/or Roussanne. The Northern Rhône accounts for approximately 5% of the region’s overall output.
Southern Rhône’s wine-producing scene is much more diverse. Here, red, white, and rosé wines are made mostly from blends, the majority of which are crafted from three or more grape varieties. While wines from the Northern Rhône tend to be pricier and more sought after, wines from the Southern Rhône are generally known for their budget-friendly nature.
What are the main grape varieties of the Rhône Valley?
Syrah, Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne are the only permitted grape varieties in the Northern Rhône. On the other hand, dozens of grapes are widely cultivated across the Southern Rhône, including Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Carignan, Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Clairette, and beyond.
Who are the benchmark producers of the Rhône Valley?
The Rhône Valley is home to a plethora of world-class producers. While most of the cellar-worthy candidates are found in the Northern Rhône, a good handful can be found scattered around the south. Benchmark producers in the Northern Rhône include but are not limited to Jean-Louis Chave, Pierre Gonon, Thierry Allemand, Auguste Clape, M. Chapoutier, and beyond. In the Southern Rhône, Château Rayas, Château de Beaucastel, and Domaine de Beaurenard are three of the most widely respected names.
5 producers to buy now:
Jean-Louis Chave is regarded as one of the most talented, if not the most talented, winemaker in all of the Northern Rhône. The family’s Rhône-based roots date back to 1481, rendering Jean-Louis the 16th generation at the family estate. Centuries of know-how and coveted growing sites, coupled with meticulous attention to detail in the cellar, have rendered these wines some of the most sought-after bottles on the market. While the domaine wines have long been the family’s claim to fame, Chave also created Jean-Louis Chave Selections, his négociant project, on the side. Whether domaine or négociant, these wines promise to please Rhône lovers everywhere.
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Jean-Louis Chave Selection Hermitage Blanc Blanche 2017 (~$67)
Hermitage is the crown jewel appellation of the Northern Rhône, and red wines produced from its fruit generally go for hundreds — even thousands — of dollars per bottle. This delicious Hermitage Blanc from Chave’s négociant line is produced mostly from Marsanne and offers its consumers an epic gateway into the potential of white wines from this revered growing site.
Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Saint-Joseph 2018 (~$79)
Although Domaine Chave’s Hermitage wine is nearly impossible to acquire, and costs a pretty penny, this delicious Saint-Joseph offers an opportunity to explore the winemaker’s estate wines at a relatively affordable price. As with all of his estate wines, Chave vinifies each plot of fruit separately and lets his mastery of blending speak for itself within final cuvées.
Among the big names of the Rhône Valley, Michel Chapoutier is arguably putting out the most interesting and versatile lineup of wines. The estate was founded in the heart of Tain l’Hermitage back in 1808, though it was Michel who brought the company to new heights. Passionate about organic and biodynamic farming, Chapoutier is one of the large-scale wineries executing this style of wine across vast sites. In addition to holding coveted plots in both the Northern and Southern Rhône, Chapoutier has also established winery projects in Alsace, Australia, and beyond. His entry-level Rhône red, white, and rosé wines, labeled as Belleruche, are ideal for drinking in the short term, though it is his higher-end Rhône bottlings that truly show the potential of the estate.
M. Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage Petite Ruche 2019 (~$28)
For more affordable Northern Rhône wines, look to the appellations of Saint-Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage. This medium-bodied wine from Chapoutier embodies everything that collectors love about the appellation: It’s delicate, it’s floral, and it’s unbelievably easy to drink, especially in its youth, which generally cannot be said about the majority of Northern Rhône collectibles.
M. Chapoutier Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Bernardine 2016 (~$59)
La Bernardine is Chapoutier’s flagship cuvée from the Southern Rhône, produced in the heart of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Fruit from this wine hails from the region’s signature galets roulés, large stone, and laden soils, which help trap heat, and in turn, lead to optimally ripe fruit. This rich-yet-balanced wine is fruit-driven, expressive, and noted with dusty, well-integrated tannins.
Jean-Paul Jamet first began working the vineyards of Côte-Rôtie back in 1976, at the young age of 16. Now, more than 40 years later, the Jamet family has acquired plots across some of the most sought-after parcels in Côte-Rôtie, including Côte Brune, La Landonne, and beyond. Jamet wines have never been vinified with excessive new oak, as Jamet’s preference lies in the classic demi-muid, a 600-liter barrel. When destemming became fashionable, Jamet stuck to his guns and continued vinifying his wines using whole clusters. Today, these emblematic wines embody what most Rhône lovers tend to flock to, particularly in the realm of Côte-Rôtie: They’re meaty, they’re smoky, and crafted with a site-specific attitude and meticulous attention to detail. All wines produced at the Jamet hands are balanced, cellar-worthy, and marked by an undeniable complexity that can only come from decades of consistent vineyard work.
Domaine Jamet Condrieu Vernillon 2019 (~$129)
Condrieu is one of the Northern Rhône’s most unique wine appellations, as it is dedicated solely to white wine production from the Viognier grape. Today, the appellation comprises about 420 acres of Viognier vines rooted within a nine-mile span of land bordering the region’s eponymous river. This ripe and personality-focused wine from Jamet is vinified entirely in terra cotta amphora and shows a more saline, mineral-tinged side to what the generally fruit-and-floral-driven Viognier can do. The wine is warm yet bright and marked with a pleasant amount of refreshing acidity.
Domaine Jamet Côte-Rôtie 2018 (~$174)
Domaine Jamet’s flagship Côte-Rôtie is all about the assemblage, that is, the piecing together of separate parcels. Although assemblage generally refers to the blending of different grape varieties, here, Jamet, showcases the art of blending fruit from different expositions, terroirs, and microclimates. Fruit for this 100% Syrah comes from 20 separate parcels and is vinified whole cluster — in typical Jamet fashion — prior to 22 months of aging in barrels, 15% of which are new.
Domaine de Beaurenard
Located in the heart of Rasteau, Domaine de Beaurenard is an eighth-generation, family-run estate, owned by the talented Coulon family. The Coulons own an impressive 80 acres of vines across the Southern Rhône, all of which are farmed organically and the majority of which are farmed biodynamically. In addition to vinifying their flagship wines from Rasteau and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine de Beaurenard also produces an entry-level red from the Côtes du Rhône, as well as a delicious rosé crafted from purchased fruit sourced from a handful of reliable friends. These wines are quickly finding themselves on top lists around the globe.
Domaine de Beaurenard Rasteau 2019 (~$23)
Rasteau may not be a household name just yet, but rest assured, this premier growing site is slowly but surely gaining traction. Beaurenard is based in this key Southern Rhône appellation, in which a handful of the region’s signature varieties thrive. This particular wine is made from 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah. On the palate, it’s ripe, spicy, and laden with powerful flavors of ripe red and dark fruits, garrigue, and a hint of pepper.
Domaine de Beaurenard Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2019 (~$65)
This world-class wine from Châteauneuf-du-Pape is not only the flagship cuvée of the Beaurenard estate, but also an excellent expression of just how complex wines from the region can be. The wine’s assemblage pays homage to the appellation’s AOP regulations and utilizes all 13 permitted grape varieties, though the blend is always Grenache dominant. After hand-picking and hand sorting in the vineyard, all of the fruit is co-fermented together and gently extracted, followed by 12 months of aging in a combination of vats, barrels, and foudres. Refined and energetic, this wine provides a top-tier overview of what wines from the region are all about.
Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet (Hervé Souhaut)
Natural wine aficionados are no strangers to the wines of Hervé Souhaut. Souhaut founded his estate, Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet, back in 1993, and works mostly with vines ranging from 50 to 100 years in age. In addition to working coveted plots in the Rhône, which happen to be situated just across from the famed appellations of Hermitage and Saint-Joseph, Souhaut also works a handful of vines in the Ardèche. Farming is done organically and all fruit is vinified whole bunch and semi-carbonically. The resulting wines are elegant and acid forward, marked by an impeccable sense of place and serious ability to evolve over time. Skeptical collectors worry not — while these wines are produced naturally, they are flawless and have the capacity to age in the cellar.
Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet Blanc 2020 (~$35)
Although Souhaut’s lineup is predominantly red, this world-class white is not to be overlooked. Crafted from a blend of 70% Viognier and 30% Roussanne, the wine is vinified whole bunch in wooden tanks and aged on its fine lees in used oak casks for eight months prior to bottling without filtration. The wine’s fruit-forward and palate-coating flavors range from apple compote and honey to slight oak, vanilla, white flowers, and crushed rocks. This complex wine promises to pair well with a variety of foods, particularly scallops, lobster, and creamy pasta dishes.
Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet Sainte Epine 2020 (~$65)
Souhaut’s Sainte Epine vineyard is situated just behind his house in Tourney. Here, vines are cultivated on steep, terraced slopes and are over 100 years in age. Crafted entirely from hand-harvested Syrah, the wine sees a long maceration and is vinified whole bunch in wooden tanks prior to aging on the lees. This flavor-packed bottle explodes with flavors of dark fruits, Bing cherry, anise seed, and a punch of black pepper. While it’s drinking beautifully now, this bottle will definitely withstand the test of time in the cellar.