The Rhone valley is one of the most im-portant wine-producing areas of France. Great quantities of red, white and rose wine are made, most of it on the stretch of the river between Lyons and Avignon. The most popular red Rhone wine is probably Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which comes from near Avignon. (It takes its name, in fact, from a piece of Avignon history.
During the fourteenth century for a time there were two Popes heading the Roman Catholic Church, one in Rome the other in Avignon; the vineyards of Chatcauncuf-du-Papc stand in the grounds of a ruined medieval castle which once belonged to the Avignon Popes). History apart, Chateauncuf-du-Papc is one of the most interesting and satisfying middle-priced wines on the market. Unlike most of the better Rhone wines, it is blended from several different varieties of grape. It is deep, deep red in colour, big and full to taste and all in all a wine to be reckoned with. Of the other reds, Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage are generally considered to be somewhat similar in taste to Chateauncuf-du-Pape and are an equally good buy. The much smaller vineyard of Cote Rotie (roasted hill in French!) makes quite possibly the finest single wine of the whole area. Un-fortunately, it produces only about 20,000 gallons a year, which means that very little ever finds its way into the general market – a great pity, because it is a quite stunning wine, soft but full, and it ages beautifully.
Much blended red wine of the area is sold under the general description Cotes du Rhone and such wines are usually good buys, although the quality can obviously vary considerably from blender to blender. All Cotes du Rhone wine will be full and slightly rough to taste.
A lot of white wine is produced in the Rhone valley, too, and in general it somewhat resembles the white Burgundies, being heavy to taste, with an aromatic flavour. Most are also a distinctive, deep golden colour. The best of them, by common consent, is produced near Condrieu, just to the south of the vineyard which produces Cote Rotie, Chateau Grillet. It must be one of the rarest wines in the world since a mere 350 gallons of it is produced in any one year – but that has proved to be more than’ enough upon which to build a reputation. Both Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Hermitage make a reasonable quantity of white wine, some of which is now available outside France – and is worth tasting. Like the reds produced by these vineyards, they are big and full and high, alcoholically.
The Rhone valley produces the only seriously regarded rose wine in the world (at least according to the experts who, in the main, tend to look down their noses at rose, deeming it the drink of the non-wine drinker). Everyone agrees, though, that Tavcl produces a unique wine of great merit – and everyone is right; for a rose wine it has -a marvellously distinctive taste, slightly sharp but clean.
All Rhone wines are strong-tasting and are not, therefore, to be recommended for light, slightly bland food. On the other hand, strong meats such as game and steak are marvellously complemented by the strength of the reds; spicy chicken dishes by the whites. The beautiful Tavcl will complement almost anything but may be particularly recommended for pork dishes and highly spiced salads.