The most prestigious individual appellation is Châteauneuf-du-Pape which, as we have already discussed, allows a blend of up to ten red varieties and nine whites, for its red wine, with no restriction as to proportion. As in Côtes du Rhône, Grenache usually leads, and the GSM combination is quite common. History again: the name means “new castle of the Pope.” In 1308 Pope Clement V, who was originally French, moved the Papacy from Rome to the French city of Avignon, not far the southern Rhône region, where it remained for 67 years. Clement and his successors came to like and support the local wine. Clement’s successor John XXII built the castle that still stands as the symbol of the appellation. CDP is often sold in thick bottles which sport an embossed replicate of a papal seal.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a high production area, producing more wine, mostly red (white is allowed but not rosé), than the entire northern Rhone region. In certain areas round rocks called galets roulés sit on top of the clay soil. The rocks collect the heat from the sun, releasing the heat at night to keep up the ripening process. Many vineyards do not use the galets because they seek to delay the ripening process in order to preserve acidity.
It is tough to generalize what Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine is like because it has so many permutations. In a recent web search, we found examples selling from $20 to nearly $2000 with numerous prices points in between. The red wine could be earthy and meaty with notes of leather and tar, but rich and spicy with some age. A common aromatic note is “garrigue,” an amalgamation of dried hillside herbs typical of southern France. White Châteauneuf-du-Pape (only 5% of production) is extremely varied in character. It can be made from any or every one of those allowed white grapes.
Gigondas, northeast of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, is considered Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s “little brother.” Red and rosé wines are permitted, but no whites. Red Gigondas must be made from a maximum 80% Grenache, a minimum 15% Syrah and/or Mourvedre, and a maximum 10% from the other Rhône varietals, excluding Carignan. Once again, we are probably looking at the popular GSM blend.
Vacqueyras, next door to Gigondas, is much like it. Whites are allowed, yet 97% of production is red.
Beaumes de Venise, which borders both Gigondas and Vacqueyras, includes two different AOCs that produce radically different types of wine. Here vines grow on the lower slopes of the Dentelles de Montmirail, a collection of jutting spires of Jurassic limestone.
The Muscat de Beumes de Venise AOC got its cru status in 1943 for its fortified wine from the Muscat grape, but its renown predates that date by two millennia. Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) praised the Muscat wine of Beaumes. In 1248, Louis IX took the wine with him on his seventh crusade. The next century the Popes in Avignon took a shine to the wine. The golden Muscat vines are planted on narrow terraces, known as “restanques” or “faysses”, and supported by walls. The sun’s warmth radiates down off the limestone slabs of the Dentelles de Montmirail. The white wine is golden in color, with a nose of flowers and tropical fruits, and a long finish. Fermentation is arrested at between five and ten percent alcohol level by adding pure alcohol of at least 96%, when the musts contain 5% to 10% alcohol. The finished wine must contain at least 100g/L of sugar (10% sugar level) and have an alcohol content of at least at least 15%. The plain vanilla Beumes de Venise AOC got cru status only in 2005 for red wines. Considering that Grenache must be at least 50% of the blend, Syrah 25%, with the remainder divided between Mourvèdre and a few others (up to 5% white), this wine is looking awfully like a close cousin to Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the GSM blend.
Vinsobres is another AOC that largely follows a GSM configuration.
In the Côtes du Vivarais in the northwest of the region, red wines (80% of production) are made from Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, and a few other grapes. Rosé (15%) uses the same mix. White wines (5%) are made from Clairette Blanche, Grenache Blanc, and Marsanne.
Grignan-Les Adhemar appears as the Côteaux du Tricastin on our map. An accident at the Tricastin Nuclear Power Center in 2008 released uranium into the environment and negatively impacted sales of the wine, so the name of the AOC was changed. The appellation sits at the border between the continental climate of the northern Rhône and the Mediterranean climate of the southern Rhône. Winemaking here goes back two millennia Wines are nearly all red, led by Grenache and Syrah, with Cinsault, Mourvèdre and Carignan.
Rasteau specializes in the fortified Vin Doux Naturel (VDN) in red, rosé or white, and a small proportion of dry red wines. Grenache Noir, Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc are allowed in the VDN. These can also include up to a 10% contribution from any of the eighteen varieties allowed in red, rosé or white Côtes du Rhône. The alcohol level of the finished wine must be at least 15 per cent, a maximum of 21.5 per cent by volume, with sugar at a minimum of 45 grams per liter (4.5%.). The dry red Rasteau is commonly made from 100% Grenache Noir.
Lirac produces red wines from Grenache (40% min.), Syrah and Mourvèdre (min 25% together), Cinsault and Carignan (max. 10%) Rosé uses the same varieties, with up to 10% of the allowed varieties for whites. White Lirac uses Clairette, Grenache Blanc and Bourboulenc, with no variety allowed to be more than 60%.
Tavel wines are all rosé. Tavel has been highly regarded over the centuries. It was the favorite of Louis XIV, the Avignon popes, novelist Honoré de Balzac, and the 20th-century writer, Ernest Hemingway. Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah and Mourvèdre are the main grapes used. The wine is very dry and has greater body and structure than many rosés. It may improve with age.
In the Côtes du Ventoux, red and rosé wines are made from Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, and Carignan (maximum 30%). White wines are produced from Clairette Blanche, Bourboulenc, Grenache Blanc, and Roussanne (maximum 30%). The reds (80% of production) are light and fruity.
In the Côtes du Luberon, red wines are made from Grenache and Syrah (minimum 60%, of which Syrah is a minimum of 10%), Cinsault (maximum 20%), Carignan (maximum 20%) , with Counoise, Gamay Noir, Mourvèdre, and Pinot Noir. For rosé the same varieties are used as for the red, with up to 20% of the allowed varieties for the white wine. Whites are made from Ugni Blanc (max. 50%) Roussanne & Marsanne (combined max of 20%), Clairette Blanche, Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, and Bourboulenc.
In the Die region between the northern and southern sections of the Rhône, Clairette de Die is a sparkling white wine made from Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (75% minimum) and Clairette (25% maximum).The wine has peach and apricot flavors and rose and honeysuckle aromas, is usually drunk young, and is served chilled.
Crémant de Die is a dry, sparkling wine of apple and green fruit flavors and fragrance made by the traditional Champagne method of a first fermentation in the vat followed by a second fermentation in the bottle. Clairette, Aligoté and Muscat are the allowed grapes.
Coteaux de Die is a still dry white wine produced from 100% Clairette.
Châtillon-en-Diois is a still wine produced in three colors. The red and rosé are produced from Gamay, Pinot Noir and Syrah.