Southern Rhone wines

The Southern Rhône’s most famous reds are from the appellation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a gorgeous medieval stone village perched amid a sea of green vines with Mont Ventoux towering in the backdrop. Credit: Terri Cook and Lon Abbott The Southern Rhône’s most famous reds are from the appellation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a gorgeous medieval stone village perched amid a sea of green vines with Mont Ventoux towering in the backdrop. Credit: Terri Cook and Lon Abbott

The Rhône Valley’s wine-growing regions are divided into two sections, with only its southern portion located in Provence. The Southern Rhône is best known for distinctively spicy red wines, the result of producing extremely low yields from very old vines whose grapes’ sugar content and acidity levels are further concentrated by the region’s fierce winds. The result is unusually dense wines full of earthy flavors.

The Southern Rhône’s most famous reds are from the appellation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a gorgeous medieval stone village perched amid a sea of green vines with Mont Ventoux towering in the backdrop. As the name suggests, the village was once the location of the popes’ summer home, built by the second Avignon Pope, John XXII. One small section of wall is all that remains after the château was bombed during World War II.

A distinctive characteristic of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyards is the presence of smooth, rounded “pudding stones,” which, after basking in the sun all day, radiate stored heat throughout the night, more evenly warming the grapes and also helping to retain moisture. Credit: Terri Cook and Lon Abbott A distinctive characteristic of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyards is the presence of smooth, rounded “pudding stones,” which, after basking in the sun all day, radiate stored heat throughout the night, more evenly warming the grapes and also helping to retain moisture. Credit: Terri Cook and Lon Abbott

A distinctive characteristic of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyards is the presence of smooth, rounded “pudding stones,” which so completely cover the ground around the vines that the soil can’t be seen. The stones are chunks of rock eroded by rivers from the rapidly rising Alps that were then rounded and polished by a larger, more powerful Rhône River before it shrank and abandoned the rocks on its high terraces. The stones are crucial for the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation; after basking in the sun all day, they radiate their stored heat throughout the night, more evenly warming the grapes and also helping to retain moisture in the ground below.

Winemaking in the Southern Rhône is dominated by small producers, nearly all of whom welcome visitors for tastings and direct sales. 

Terri Cook

Terri Cook

Based in Boulder, Colo., and trained as a geologist, Cook is a freelance writer whose career has focused on exploring and explaining the history of our amazing planet, including as a roving correspondent for EARTH. Follow her travels at www.down2earthscience.com. Follow her @GeoTravelTerri.

Monday, February 24, 2014 - 06:00