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There are several things you have to consider when buying Rhone wine. The flavors of the wine vary greatly from area to area within the Rhone region, so the most important thing to consider is your own taste.
Do you like rich, full-bodied wines? Then you should go with a wine from the northern part of the Rhone Valley.
Or do you prefer lighter, fruitier wines? Then you should try one of the wines of southern Rhone.
Northern Rhone Valley Wines
The best red wines from this area are from Cote Rotie and Hermitage. These are fine French wines that have completely different flavors. The Cote Rotie, although full-bodied, has a distinct fruity flavor to it. Hermitage is a very tannic wine with a spicy flavor.
Northern Rhone Valley wine is made primarily from the Syrah grape. The other famous Syrah wine region is Australia, where they call it “Shiraz.”
…One fun experiment is to taste a northern Rhone Valley wine along with an Aussie Shiraz. It is amazing how different the wines can be that come from this little grape!
Keep in mind: Northern Rhone Valley wine is not cheap.
The area produces less wine than the southern region, causing northern Rhone Valley wines to be higher in price. You can expect to pay $20-$50 for a northern Rhone Valley wine. Some Cote Rotie wine goes for over $100 a bottle.
If you plan on aging wines from northern Rhone — Good Choice! In good vintages, these wines will age for 20-30 years. A good vintage of Hermitage can age for 50 years.
These wines are fine to drink now as well. The wines from this part of the Rhone wine region are also very consistent in their style and flavor. Bottom line: You know what to expect from northern Rhone Valley wine.
As we go into the wines of southern Rhone, you will see that styles vary in that region.
Wines of Southern Rhone
The wines of southern Rhone are much fruitier and lighter. Although the wines here can be made with 13 different types of grapes, the primary grape is Grenache, which gives these Rhone wines their fruity flavor.
The best red wines from the southern part of the Rhone region are Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Cotes du Rhone.
Wines from Cotes du Rhone are made primarily from the Grenache grape, but some French wine makers do make blends in this Rhone region.
You can find a nice Cotes du Rhone-Villages for under $20. This is a wine that is made with grapes from certain villages in southern Rhone.
You can age Cotes du Rhone wines for 2-3 years.
Chateauneuf-du-Pape are just as varied as those from Cotes du Rhone. Some are similar to a Beaujolais, a fruity wine from Burgundy. Other Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines are rich and full-bodied.
There is a way to determine which is which. The estate wines are the full-bodied wines. Think of it this way: A French wine maker who uses only the best grapes will produce the most expensive wines. The high-end Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines are around $50. You can age a good high-end vintage for 10 years.
One more thing about Rhone wine:
The Rhone region is a very warm, sunny climate. The amount of sunshine makes the grapes sweeter, therefore making the wine higher in alcohol. Rhone Valley wines have a minimum of 10.5% alcohol in them.