Rhône Valley Wine Producers We Love
From the exhalted, powerful reds of the tiny Hermitage appellation in the north to the Southern Rhône’s suppler, berry-rich red blends, the Rhône offers some of the best quality for price in all of France. Northern Rhône reds get their spice and brooding dark fruit flavors from the dominant Syrah grape; the reds of the warmer, far larger southern Rhône are blends based chiefly on Grenache. White wines often get overshadowed by both region’s reds, but can be terrific values.
Albert Belle’s family used to grow grapes for the local co-op; today this northern Rhône vintner’s reds are among the best in the large Crozes-Hermitage appellation (the estate extends into Hermitage as well). Along with son Philippe, Belle produces traditionally crafted Syrahs that display a rare mix of concentration and finesse; his rich yet balanced whites are a blend of Roussane and Marsanne grapes.
Château d’Aquéria is the leading estate in Tavel, a tiny subregion that produces some of the world’s greatest rosés. Rich with history, d’Aquéria takes its name from one Count Louis Joseph d’Aquéria, who reportedly planted the estate’s first grapes in 1595; its neoclassical château dates to the 18th century. The current owners, the de Bez family, focus most of their production on a single, reliably elegant rosé.
Château de Beaucastel/Perrin & Fils
One of most revered names in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Château de Beaucastel is the southern Rhône’s flagship producer. The Perrin family owns more than a thousand acres and produces a huge variety of wine, ranging from the value Vieille Ferme label to such cult classics as the Mourvèdre-based Hommage à Jacques Perrin—a wine as legendary for its price as for its power.
Château de Saint Cosme
Winemaker Louis Barruol’s family acquired this legendary Gigon- das estate in 1490—but the property dates to Roman times (a tasting-room wall was built in the second century). The Barruols offer a supremely well-crafted lineup. Château de Saint Cosme wines come from its organic estate; Saint Cosme and Little James’ Basket Press bottlings are made from purchased grapes.
Château Guiot helped put the Costières de Nîmes region on the world’s fine-wine radar. This slice of Provence used to be considered part of the Languedoc but was elevated in 2004 to the more esteemed Rhône appellation. Sylvia Cornut makes the wines, while husband François tends their 200-plus vineyard acres. Top red cuvées are dense blends; the two Vins de Pays du Gard bottlings (under the Mas de Guiot label) are great values.
The largest single-estate vineyard of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Mont-Rédon commands more than 200 acres of vineyards, with vines that average 45 years of age and include all of the 13 grape varieties approved in the region, a rare occurrence today. Mont-Rédon manages its historic vineyards with modern, quality-improving technology, like grape-sorting that’s assisted by computer imaging of the berries.
Clos des Papes
Vintner Paul-Vincent Avril inherited both this ancient and well-regarded Châteauneuf-du-Pape estate and a knack for excelling with red and white wines. These factors mean that obtaining a taste of any of his acclaimed cuvées—especially the rare whites—can be tough. But wines from Clos des Papes are worth the splurge: Under Avril, recent offerings are world-class.
The all-star team at this well-known négociant—including enologist Jacques Grange and winemaker Jean-François Farinet—has transformed a once-lackluster portfolio into a treasure trove of memorable wines. Their talent, plus an infusion of cash from corporate parent Louis Roederer, means that this négociant is at last living up to the potential of its vineyards. With a home base close to St-Joseph, it offers great wines from both northern and southern Rhône regions.
Domaine du Pégau
Domaine du Pégau crafts its wonderfully voluptuous, modern-style Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines the old-fashioned way: Winemaker Laurence Féraud does little more than bring in grapes, crush them and let them ferment. She attributes the fabulous concentration of Pégau’s much-coveted, top-tier wines to extremely low yields and old vines.
Domaine Grand Veneur
Like many Rhône winegrowing dynasties, Alain Jaume’s family first planted grapes in Châteauneuf in the early 1800s. The estate stands out, however, for its ability to produce such consistently terrific wines year after year. Jaume and his sons—Christophe and Sébastien—are meticulous winemakers with access to excellent vineyards, which they farm organically.
Domaine les Aphillanthes
Before 1999 Daniel Boulle sold all of his fruit to the local cooperative, but he now crafts his impeccable Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre into a series of distinctive Côtes-du-Rhône cuvées. Boulle’s dark, rich and structured reds offer phenomenal satisfaction for the price—even rivaling wines from some of the region’s more lofty real estate.
Domaine Paul Autard
It’s no accident that Paul Autard is an insider favorite among sommeliers: He crafts his wines in a classically balanced style (read: not superripe or super-oaky), which renders them ideal partners for food. Instead of sheer power and concentration, Autard’s four rich estate-grown wines (three Châteauneufs and a Côtes-du-Rhône) hinge on balance and finesse.
The small scale of this Gigondas estate—8,000 cases a year—means that Dominique Ay can focus intensely on his two wines. He also experiments: Ay ages his Grenache-based red in large, old oak tanks (instead of in conventional barrels), and he makes his rosé by tinting white wine with a dash of red (rather than fermenting red grapes with minimal skin contact).
Domaine Roger Sabon
Even by French standards the Sabon winemaking family ranks as ancient—its first recorded vineyard in Châteauneuf-du-Pape dates to 1540. Grenache is at the heart of the reds, including the famous Le Secret des Sabon bottling. Produced from centenarian vines, it’s among the region’s benchmark wines but tough to find in the U.S. Instead, look for the terrific Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côtes-du-Rhône and Lirac bottlings.
A Côte-Rôtie specialist, Guigal makes more northern Rhône wine than any other producer—including some of the region’s definitive wines. Crowned by three pricey Côte-Rôtie bottlings from the La Turque, La Mouline and La Landonne vineyards (famously nicknamed “the LaLas”), Guigal’s portfolio offers a tableside tour of every key Rhône appellation.
Jean-Luc Colombo owns a 49-acre estate in Cornas and a thriving négociant business. But his real influence is as a consultant, passing on his secrets for making the kind of flashy, concentrated wines he’s known for. Colombo’s famous Cornas bottlings include a handful of intense, brooding estate cuvées; his great array of négociant wines deliver value.
Paul Jaboulet Aîné
Jaboulet is arguably the most important Rhône wine house of the past century. Its Hermitage La Chapelle set a world-class standard, and basic cuvées such as Parallèle 45 are seemingly ubiquitous. From a Tavel rosé to a definitive Châteauneuf, Jaboulet wines represent every major subzone. After an unstable period in the early 2000s, Jaboulet has rebounded under Denis Dubourdieu’s direction and the ownership of the Frey family, which bought the winery in 2006.
The oldest producer in the Rhône has grown steadily over centuries into a formidable négociant, offering wines that span the region. A value-priced Côtes-du-Rhône red is a favorite of big-box retailers, but Vidal-Fleury also offers many more serious wines, including a Côte-Rôtie from its original vineyards, where Thomas Jefferson first encountered the wines.