The Rhone Valley lies in southeastern France, just north of Provence, and south of Lyon. Wines from the southern region are hearty and robust, and generally a pretty good value. Southern Valley Rhones are non-complex and inexpensive, they show medium to firm tannins and are somewhat high in alcohol.
With different grapes producing markedly different wines, the Northern and Southern Rhone Valley still share a common bond within the region’s prototype. Cotes du Rhone makes up the bulk of the Southern Rhone Valley’s wines. The region is warm and dry, condusive for red wine-grape growing.
The predominant grape in Cotes du Rhone is Grenache, but lots of blending goes on there; Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, and Carignan are all varieties used widely for that purpose.
If you feel the need to step it up, the natural progression would be Cotes du Rhone-Villages, wines blended from grapes from two or more villages. These wines come from sixteen possible villages, where the vineyards are deemed superior to that of everyday Cotes du Rhone. Reading the label comes into play here: if a wine’s grapes come entirely from a specific village, the name of the village may appear on the label, along with Cotes du Rhone-Villages.
Cotes du Rhone-Villages wines are are more concentrated, refined, and complex, and less fruity then regular Cotes du Rhones. Cotes du Rhone wines should be drunk within a couple years, Cotes du Rhone-Villages age well, up to eight years. Price is a factor, too, Cotes du Rhones should run around $8.00 a bottle, Cotes du Rhone-Villages more like $10. to $13.
Ramping it up more still is Gigondas ($18. or so a bottle) a village formerly part of Cotes du Rhone-Villages, where their own village name is on the label without the designation Cotes du Rhone-Villages. Gigondas is more robust still, and can easily be laid down for ten- plus years.
Likely the best known red of the southern Rhone Valley is Chateauneuf-du-Pape. These wines may be produced from as many as thirteen different grapes but the primary ones are Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. Chateauneuf-du-Papes are full bodied and rich, and fairly high in alcohol; they may (the better vintages, at least) be laid down for fifteen to twenty years. Price points would fall around $15. to $25. a bottle. The hardy grapes of this designation thrive in the sunny, extremely rocky soil of the region.
Winding up the southern Rhone is the Cotes du Ventoux. These wines are inexpensive and similar to Cotes du Rhones but are lighter bodied; you may pick these up for $7. or so a bottle.