Rhône Style Wines: Guide to Rhône Valley Wine Region in France

map of rhone wine region

Rhône Valley, France

The Rhône Valley is an Old World Wine Region in France where vineyards have been cultivated for more than 2,000 years. Ancient Greeks first planted vineyards in the region in 400 BC in the area of Marseilles.

The Rhône river rises in the Alps and flows 120 miles south to the Mediterranean Sea. The river lends its name to the southern French wine region, the Rhône Valley and its banks, as well as its major AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, pro. ah-pehllah-SYAHN daw-ree-JEEN kawn-traw-LAY), Côtes du Rhône.

The Rhône Valley is the second biggest appellation in France with 71,000 hectares of vines planted. In addition, there are 27,500 hectares planted in Provence. Only Bordeaux has more vineyards. 

When added all together, the annual production of wine from the Rhône Valley is more than 400 million bottles of wine per year. 

In total, there are more than 30 different AOC appellations in the Rhône Valley today.

There are 27 unique grape varieties allowed for planting in the Rhône Valley. More than 5,000 different producers, domaine’s and vineyards are actively involved in making wine.

Red wine is king in the Rhône Valley. About 91% of Rhône wines are red, followed by roses and whites.

Northern Rhône vs Southern Rhône Wines

Northern Rhône reds made with Syrah are big, bold, spicy wines with a firm tannic structure when young.

The Northern Rhône is responsible for less than 5% of the total 100 million gallons of wine produced annually, and it’s become some of the most sought after wine – quality over quantity is key in Northern Rhône. 

Southern Rhône red blends are based mainly on Grenache and have rounded, warm, red fruit flavors. They tend to have elevated alcohol levels and beautiful ripe fruit. The best reds have the earthy-herbal scent of garrigue, local scrub comprised of bay, lavender, rosemary and juniper.

Southern Rhône wines can range from simple, easy summer wines to very complex, oak-aged whites like Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, which are rounded and best enjoyed after a few years of bottle age.

The red wines are referred to as GSM wine blends, often made with fruity Grenache, peppery and savory Syrah and dark/tannic/herbaceous Mourvedre grapes. Fruit can technically be sourced from both the Northern and Southern Rhône, though more often than not, grapes come from the south.

Northern Rhône

The Northern Rhône Valley is 40 miles long and responsible for a tiny 5% of all the wines from the Rhône region.

Known for the steep hillsides, the vineyards are terraced to keep the soil from eroding, retain the warmth of the sun and make life a little easier for the vineyard workers.

The climate is ‘continental’ with hot summers, cold winters and precipitation throughout the year.

syrah wine grape

In the Northern Rhône, Syrah is the only red wine grape allowed.

Northern Rhône Syrah is full bodied, savory, and elegant.

Syrah Grape Characteristics: 

Syrah/Shiraz ranges from fairly to highly aromatic. Aroma and flavor aspects can include a range of floral (violets) to baked and dried black fruit (blackberry and blueberry), bakeshop (chocolate, espresso, clove, and black pepper), tobacco shop (leather), and earth (leaves and animal). As with most wines, over time, many of the “primary fruit” components are moderated and then supplemented with earthy or savory “tertiary” notes with a greater emphasis of tobacco and earth.

Syrah/Shiraz tends to be densely colored, with a rich, medium to full body, medium to high tannin and acid, with high alcohol content. Syrah blends tend to be a bit softer than the solo Syrah, and with less alcohol.

Northern Rhône Appellations

There are 8 appellations in the Northern Rhône Valley.

Côte-Rôtie – Red wine made from Syrah.

Cornas  – Red wine made from Syrah.

Saint-Joseph – Red wine made from Syrah, white wine made from Marsanne and Roussanne.

Crozes-Hermitage – Red wine made from Syrah, white wine made from Marsanne and Roussanne.

Hermitage – Red wine made from Syrah, white wine made from Marsanne and Roussanne

Condrieu – White wine made from Viognier.

Château Grillet – White wine made from Viognier.

Saint-Péray – White wine made from Marsanne and Roussanne.

Southern Rhône

The Southern Rhône Valley has a wealth of appellations that stretch from either side of the river into the mountains and valleys.

The region is distinctly more ‘Provençal’ with a Mediterranean influence in culture and climate and is known for the famous powerful, cold, Mistral Winds.

A unique characteristic of Southern Rhône wines are the nuances of Garrigue – the wild resinous herbs that cover the landscape.

grenache wine grape

Grenache is the King in the South and forms the foundation of the area’s popular blends.

Grenache Grape Characteristics: 

This grape varietal produces aromas and flavors of concentrated baked to dried red and black fruits (strawberry and cherry), coffee shop (chocolate), bakeshop spice (cinnamon and clove), garden (earth and wet leaves), and tobacco shop (smoke).

Grenache is known for its dry, acidic rosé wines and bold, intense red wines. Grenache typically maintains a medium to full body with medium acid and tannin levels and high alcohol content.

In Southern Rhône, you’ll also encounter Mourvedre, Cinsault, Counoise, Carignan, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Clairette, Bourboulenc and a host of minor players.

The Southern Rhône is also famous for its fruit forward, early drinking, white wines and rosé. 

Southern Rhône Appellations

There are now more than 23 different appellations in the Southern Rhône.


Red and white wines made from blends of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Muscardin, Counoise, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Picardan, Piquepoul, Roussanne, Terret Noir and Vaccarèse.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape means “The Pope’s New Castle” The Catholic Church was the next main influence when Pope Clement V moved his headquarters from Rome to Avignon in 1309.

Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Villages

The most popular of all Southern Rhône appellations is the famed Côtes du Rhône, which accounts for 50% of all wine produced in the entire valley. It covers a vast area and stands for red and rosé wines made primarily from Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and white wines made primarily from primarily Grenache blanc, Clairette, Marsanne, Roussanne, Bourboulenc and Viognier.

Some of the Côtes du Rhône Villages are called Rhône Crus and make wines under slightly more stringent regulations. Notable villages of this latter designation are Vinsobres, Rasteau, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Lirac and Tavel.

These entry-level reds, whites, and rosés are super affordable and easy-drinking, making them a no-brainer for food and wine pairings or simple weeknight, post-work bottles. 

New World rhône style wines

The Rhône Rangers is a movement started by some of the most colorful characters in the history of California winemaking. Led by Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard in Santa Cruz – a remarkable, verbally gifted nomadic winemaker.

He settled on Rhône varieties in the early 1980s because he felt like he was failing as a Pinot Noir winemaker. He ended up making one of the first Rhône blends in California; it was called Le Cigare Volant. On the label, a flying saucer was something out of the ordinary as most wine bottles portrayed a more serious approach. Watch our interview with Randall Grahm below to learn more.

Shop Rhône Style Wines

Meet the Rhône Style Wine Producers in Napa & Sonoma

Inspiration Vineyards

Born from a dream and a mid-life career change, Inspiration Vineyards was created in 2002. Jon Phillips' passion for wine, however, dates back much further to his grandparents who made wine in the early 1900's. For years, Jon was determined to break into the wine business by working weekends in tasting rooms, teaching wine classes and ultimately enrolling in a class at UC Davis in Enology and Viticulture. Shortly thereafter Jon made his first barrel of wine, a Zinfandel.

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MacLaren Wine

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4YRU_tGbhY “MacLaren is my clan name. In Scotland your clan defines the tartan of your kilt and ties you to a region and community, to a group of people with a common thread. Through my wines I seek to share my obsession for cool-climate Syrah and bring together wine lovers with a shared interest in […]

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Loomis Estate Vineyards

Established in 2007, Loomis Estate Vineyards is relatively new to the Napa Valley, but already creating exceptional wines. Jeff Loomis, founder and vintner of Loomis Family Vineyards, doesn't like to be told no. When he purchased the majestic mountain property that would become his home and vineyard, he was told he couldn't grow Rhône varietals there. He's had a passion for Rhône wines ever since studying abroad and cycling through Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the South of France.

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Sol Rouge Vineyard and Winery

Hidden away in the foothills of a dormant volcano in Lake County, just north of Napa Valley, Sol Rouge Vineyard and Winery is crafting under-the-radar, award winning wines. Sol Rouge gets its name from the red soils that blanket the region and contribute to the unique quality of the wines. Residing in the Red Hills AVA (American Viticultural Area) Sol Rouge sits at elevations over 1800 feet, allowing the vines to bask in the sun above the fog line.

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Crux Winery

What started as two neighbors with a serious passion for wine has since turned into an impressive small production portfolio of Rhone-inspired wines. Winemakers/Owners Brian Callahan and Steven Gower initially planted their own vineyards, situated above the fogline, in the northern part of the Russian River Valley.

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Bonny Doon Vineyard

First, Bonny Doon isn’t a winery any more than its founder is a winemaker. Bonny Doon is an idea. A hope. An aspiration. A dream. A love affair. And most certainly a journey. Is there a tasting room? Yes, but Bonny Doon is more than a destination. The wines, the story, the founder and the history are truly, to borrow a term from 1960’s lexicon, a trip.

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