While grapes have been grown on the Rhône River’s steep slopes since the times of the Greeks and Romans, the modern era of winemaking in the area dates to the 18th century. Wine barrels from here were first marked “CDR” for Côte du Rhône, meaning the right bank of the river, as far back as 1737. Over 100 years later, the same initials were used to designate wines from the left bank as well, but this time they stood for the plural Côtes du Rhône.
The entire Rhône Valley features hot sunny days that help grapes to fully ripen as well as rocky soils that retain intense heat through the day and into the night. The northern Rhône is known for its bold Syrah-based reds from the Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas, Côte-Rôtie and St. Joseph appellations, while its neighbor to south is famous for its Grenache-based wines.
Wine from Hermitage may have up to 15 percent Roussanne and Marsanne, both white varieties, blended in, while St. Joseph can have 10 percent of these two grapes added. The Cornas appellation only permits wine to be made with 100 percent Syrah, and Côte-Rôtie may include up to 20 percent Viognier, which is also white. The addition of these local white varieties softens Syrah’s tannins and adds floral notes to the bouquet.
Expect full-on flavors of blackberry, plum, black cherry and cassis with touches of spice like clove, black pepper and star anise, earthy notes of saddle leather, truffle and black olive, and a hint of flowers. You will find strong tannins, both oak derived and from the grape itself and bold acidity. While wines from the northern Rhône will gracefully age in your cellar for up to 50 years, the best drinking window for these is eight to 12 years. Here are 11 to snap up now.
Paul Jaboulet Ainé 2017 Hermitage La Chapelle Rouge Rhone Valley France
Antoine Jaboulet founded his eponymous winery in 1834 and his legacy continues today with the Frey family who converted the estate to certified organic during the last two decades. This delightful wine is named for the chapel which overlooks the vineyards. It is ruby-garnet colored in the glass with aromas of blackberry, red plum and smoke. It is bold in the mouth with flavors of dark fruits, dried fig and tobacco leaf and silky tannins that wash over your entire palate before leading to a persistent finish.
Delas Domaine des Tourettes 2017 Hermitage Rouge Rhone Valley France
Brilliant ruby colored in the glass, this delicious wine has a complex bouquet of red and black fruits, saddle leather and brown baking spices. In the mouth it has ripe fruit flavors and soft, suede-like tannins that linger into the long, long, finish. Drink now or over the next two decades.
E. Guigal 2016 Hermitage Rhone Valley France
One of the best-known names in the region, Guigal never disappoints Rhone Valley lovers with wines at many price points in their extensive portfolio. This well-priced wine has aromas of cherry and blueberry and a touch of black pepper. In the mouth the ripe fruit flavors shine through with a hint of dried lavender in the finish.
Domaine Jean-Louis Chave 2018 Hermitage Selection Farconnet Rhone Valley France
Well established in the Northern Rhone Valley for over 500 years, the Chave family is known both locally and worldwide for their quality wines. Deep ruby colored in the glass, this intoxicating Hermitage has aromas of purple flowers, red plum and blueberry. In the mouth the fruit flavors dance across your tongue and are accented by dried Mediterranean herbs and freshly ground white pepper.
Domaine Courbis 2017 La Saborotte Cornas Rhone Valley France
Deep garnet colored in the glass, this delightful Cornas has aromas of cassis, purple flowers and dried savory spices. It is fermented and aged in new French oak and has flavors of black fruits, sweet brown baking spices and vanilla. It is full-bodied in the mouth with a soft tannic structure and long, long finish. Drink now or over the next decade.
Domaine Alain Verset 2017 Cornas Rhone Valley France
Brilliant ruby colored in the glass, this enticing Cornas has aromas of black licorice, dark fruits and a touch of smoked charcuterie. In the mouth the fruit flavors shine through with subtle tastes of violet and lavender. It has great tannic structure with pleasant grippiness in the post palate as it leads up to the long-lasting finish.
Vidal Fleury 2017 Côte-Rôtie Brune Et Blonde Rhone Valley France
Vidal Fleury has been in existence since 1781 and was one of the wineries that Thomas Jefferson visited in 1787. Grapes sourced from two separate parcels, Côte Blonde and Côte Brune, comprise this wine. It is brilliant garnet colored with aromas of charcuterie, grilled meat and cedar wood. It is medium bodied and silky on the palate with flavors of black plum, black cherry and cassis. Drink now thru the end of this decade.
Domaine de Bonserine 2017 La Garde Côte-Rôtie Rhone Valley
Ruby red in the glass, this stunning wine has aromas of dark cherries, stewed prunes, just picked violets and a touch of freshly ground black pepper. It is complex on the palate with flavors of dark fruits, nutmeg, cinnamon and silky soft tannins. The finish goes on for days. Drink now through 2034.
Delas 2017 Seigneur de Maugiron Côte-Rôtie Rhone Valley France
This lovely wine is drinking perfectly right now. It has aromas of blackberry, black plum and black currant with seamless transition to the same flavors on the palate. It has great acidity and slightly grippy tannins with notes of white pepper and powdered cocoa in the finish.
Yves Cuilleron 2017 Côte-Rôtie Madinière Rhone Valley France
Notes of warm vanilla draw you in to the complex bouquet of this enticing wine. There’s also black currant, black raspberry and blueberry aromas. In the mouth there are ripe fruit flavors with hints of cedar and licorice in the post palate.
Domaine Georges Vernay 2016 Blonde Du Seigneur Côte-Rôtie Rhone Valley France
Enticing aromas of freshly picked violets and graphite lead you in for more fruity aromas of black raspberry and red plum. It has excellent mouthfeel and flavors of dark fruits and blueberries with a bit of heft on the mid palate. The tannins are soft and round, and the finish goes on for quite a while. Drink now through 2029.