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Wine lovers guide to the Rhone Valley

Barrel with wine bottles on cobbled street, Chateauneuf du Pape, France

The Rhone-Alpes is at the crossroads of Europe, located between Switzerland and Provence, and is the second largest region in France after Midi-Pyrénées. The capital of Rhone-Alps is Lyon, a UNESCO world heritage site. It’s also famed as France’s gastronomic capital and home to a beautiful old town with windy cobbled streets that you can visit along the Saône river. And when it comes to wine, this area is world famous for the Beaujolais region with its 12 wine appellations, and for the Rhone valley with its renowned vineyards.

Rhone Valley wines

The Rhône Valley is a land of contrasts, of sunshine, ancient hilltop villages, and exquisite picture postcard vistas. Within this beautiful climate, the vines thrive producing wines that are rich, spicy, and opulent, with the distinct flavours of southern France. The wines of Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Châteauneuf-du-Pape are amongst some of the best in the world.

History of the Rhone Valley wines

Vines were first cultivated in the 4th century BC by Greek settlers in what is now the city of Marseilles. It’s now one of France’s biggest wine regions, and the Rhone Valley has a huge variety of different terroirs, soil types, and landscapes.

The region is essentially divided into two. The Southern Rhone, which is closer to the Mediterranean Sea and enjoys mild winters and hot, sunny summers. The northern Rhone has cooler summers, fall comes earlier than it does in the south and the winters are colder.

The Rhone Valley is so vast, it can be hard to choose where to begin your wine tour. A great place to start is in the  gastronomic city of Lyon, then make your way down the Rhone Valley from north to south via the region’s top appellations until you reach the medieval city of Avignon in the south. This historic city is home to the monumental Palais des Papes, the seat of several Catholic popes during the 14th century. Highlights include Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the south, once the summer home of the Popes, which is known for its hearty reds. Not so well known Condrieu produces delicious full-bodied white wines. And don’t miss the steep vineyards of the world-famous Hermitage hill which sits above the modest town of Tain-l’Hermitage.

There are loads of fabulous places to stop off at en route. Explore ancient villages, wander along charming medieval streets packed with authentic local shops and grab a bite to eat in family-run restaurants serving up delicious cuisine. Local gastronomic classics include Poulet d’Avignon, a rich chicken dish cooked with plenty of white wine, mushroom risotto prepared with black truffles, and hearty dishes from Lyon and the north such as thick sausages served with potatoes prepared with cream, butter, and parsley.

Festivals & Events

With several big cities and numerous vibrant towns and villages, the Rhone Valley has a packed calendar of festivals and events. If you’re lucky enough to be there when the  Feria des Vendanges which takes place in Nimes in September, you’re in for a treat. This week-long fair celebrates the wine harvest with pop-up bars in the street, live music, and parades through the city. In Lyon, considered one of France’s top gastronomic cities, October is the month for the Lyon Street Food Festival which hosts some 100 chefs from across the country serving up delicious French classics and dishes from further afield.

Rhone Valley Wines

Red wines from the Rhone Valley are the perfect accompaniment to hearty dishes. They’re made in a rich, luscious style with plenty of dark fruit flavors and spicy notes from maturing the wine in oak barrels. The wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape are articular favourites. Born from hot, dry summers and well-drained stony soils help to create deep, intensely flavoured and full bodied red wines.

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