In part a fine wine region, in part a largely farming economy, the Rhone Valley divides Central France from the South in terms of wine and culture.
The Gates to Chapoutier's Hermitage
In the Northern Rhone Syrah is king amongst the reds, producing tremendous red wines such as Hermitage, Cornas and Côte-Rôtie on steep, hard to manage vineyard sites. Whites tend to be produced from Viognier in Condrieu and Marsanne and Roussanne elsewhre.
The warmer south relies more heavily on the prolific Grenache variety but the best wines are almost always blends such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas. Few regions can beat the Rhône Valley in terms of offering both excellent value and legendary fine wines. Equally both the reds and the rarer Rhône whites in the South are food-friendly wines that offer great character at reasonable prices.
One important, unifying constant between the two areas is the regional Cotes du Rhone appellation, which can be claimed by red, rose and white wines from all over the valley. This title covers 171 communes over the 125 miles (200km) between Vienne in the north and Avignon in the south – the towns which mark the beginning and end of the main valley. These wines are still subject to the rules and regulations of the appellation laws, but do not match up to the quality required from more location-specific appellations such as Saint-Joseph or Gigondas.