The Wine Grapes of
the Rhone Valley
OK, so you know that most of the grapes being grown in what we call “Wine Country” on America’s West Coast had their origins in Europe, and especially in France. You’ve heard about Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot, and maybe even Pinot Noir, Gamay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chenin Blanc. And (hopefully) the more wines that you see on that highly rated restaurant’s wine list or that very well-stocked liquor store that AREN’T those previously named varieties have piqued your curiosity. You’ve been asking yourself, “What the heck is a Cinsault, or Mourvèdre, or Roussanne?” Bordeaux and Burgundy have long dominated the market for France’s exported wines, and those varieties justifiably have legions of supporters. But it doesn’t take long to realize that France has several other outstanding wine growing regions. For example, there is Alsace, which shares most of its eastern border with Germany, and is home to several grape varieties that are equally at home in Germany such as Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Gris. The Loire Valley, home of France’s longest river and multiple wine growing regions, also is home to many grape varieties that are almost exclusive to its wine appellations, such as Muscadet (also known as Melon de Bourgogne), Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc.
But – it is the Rhône Valley, followed closely by Languedoc-Roussillon and “The Rest” of France (its immediate southern neighbors) that take the prize for the most grape varieties that are officially sanctioned to produce wine. I will confine this article to the Rhone Valley’s appellations and grapes; you’ll thank me later.
What's that Big Bottle
The overwhelming majority of the world production of wine is sold in 750 ml bottles. However, in the United States, France (Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux and, to a lesser extent, other French regions), Germany, Italy, and some other countries, wineries may offer a small portion of a vintage (particularly, excellent ones) in non-standard sized bottles. These impressively larger bottles typically cost more than the equivalent amount of wine in 750 ml bottles. Is paying the premium worth it?