The first thing to know about France's Rhône Valley is that it is divided into two parts. The northern Rhône is home to dark, powerful, spicy reds made with the Syrah grape (and a few luscious whites made from Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne). The warmer southern Rhône grows some Syrah, but its signature red wines—softer and riper—are blends, typically with Grenache as the dominant variety.
In this article:
Rhône Valley: Main Varietals
Rhône Valley Bargain Bottles
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the southern Rhône's most prized (and pricey) wine. But many estates also make good value wines, like the 2009 Perrin & Fils Côtes du Rhône Villages ($15), from Château Beaucastel's owners, and the 2009 Selection Laurence Feraud Côtes du Rhône ($13) from Domaine du Pegau.
Three Great Rhône Valley Regions
2008 Domaine Santa Duc Cuvée Tradition ($43) The 2008 vintage was weak in the Rhône, but top producers like Santa Duc still made remarkable wines. This Grenache-based red is darkly spicy, with a sweet, peppery finish.
2009 Domaine Roger Sabon Les Olivets ($45) Luscious, dark cherry and herb notes fill this substantial red, from a domaine whose history reaches back to the 1500s.
2007 Domaine Michel & Stéphane Ogier ($70) Until 1980, Michel Ogier sold all of his grapes to the well-known firm of E. Guigal; now his son Stéphane runs the family estate, producing perfumed, complex Côte-Rôties like this one.
Rhône Valley: Tiny Appellation, Big Money
© Pascal Le Segretain/Getty
The second-richest man in France bought one of the smallest wine appellations in France this year—the entire thing. François Pinault purchased Château Grillet, a single château on 8.5 acres of land that is also an appellation unto itself. Grillet's legendary white wine sells for about $125 a bottle. But there are affordable and very good white wines from less famous places in the Rhône, mostly in the south. Try the 2010 Château D'Aqueria Lirac Blanc ($17), a Grenache Blanc blend with a honeysuckle scent.
Video: Rhône Valley Wine Pairing Advice