Wines of the Northern Rhone


The Northern Rhone is the de facto home of the grape known there as Syrah, and elsewhere as Shiraz. It is the only red grape allowed on the wines of the Northern Rhone. Most of the red wines are allowed to use some white wine grapes under specific conditions.

White wines from the Northern Rhone are made from Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne.

There are five appellations for red wines and six appellations for white, although red wines from the Northern Rhone are made in volume that dwarfs the volume of Northern Rhone whites. There are also wines of the Northern Rhone that are classified as either Cotes du Rhone or Vins du Pays, and these are also generally made from Syrah, though the rules are far less stringent.

For red wines, from north to south, the appellations are Côte-Rôtie, Saint-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, and Cornas.

Only Cornas is required to be made from 100% Syrah. While Marsanne and Roussanne are allowed in St. Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage and Hermitage, in practical terms this practice is relatively rare. Cote-Rotie, on the other hand, is famous for using Viognier as part mix. It must be "co-fermented", that is, made in the same vats or barrels, and not made separately and blended later. Many  Cote-Rotie producers use up to 10% Viognier to add an aromatic quality to their Syrah.

The Syrahs of the Northern Rhone differ from Australian Shiraz in several ways due the the cooler conditions, higher elevations and rocky soils. Northern Rhone Syrah is generally marked by higher acidity (drier taste) than Shiraz, with more herbal and smoky flavors. There is often a note of green olive, and the smoky flavor is often described as "bacon fat".

From north to south, the white appellations of the Northern Rhone are Chateau Grillet, Condrieu, Saint Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, and St. Peray.

The whites of St. Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, and St. Peray are made from Roussanne and Marsanne. These delicious, intensely flavored wines are produced in very small quantities.

The most interesting story of white wine from the Northern Rhone is Condrieu. Viognier is the only grape allowed in Condrieu, and the wines are incredibly floral on the nose, one of the prettiest smelling wines in the world. The mouthfeel is rich and a bit oily, with flavor reminiscent of lychee. Chateau Grillet is a monopole, with one Chateau making up the entire appellation, and is very rare and expensive.

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