Complete Guide to the Northern Rhone Wine Region
Welcome to our complete guide to the Northern Rhone!
The Northern Rhone is a favorite region among many wine-lovers, so we thought it was time to create a comprehensive guide. If you're interested in continuing your wine education, subscribe to our newsletter. Reading our emails is the easiest way to consistently taste and learn about the wines we can't stop thinking about, without breaking the bank.
How to use this guide:
1. Read the previews of each blog post.
2. Click the title links to read the entire post.
3. Become an expert in the Northern Rhone.
4. Follow the links in each post to purchase some NR wines.
5. Become a lover of the Northern Rhone.
(It's that easy!)
We love it, and based on our sales, we’re pretty sure you do too. It’s also a personal interest of mine: this is a region that provides quite a lot of the wine that I drink and cellar. I’m definitely not special in this regard. I don’t think of myself as a trend-follower, but the Northern Rhone is definitely a trend. As a region it ranks up there with Burgundy and Piedmont as one of the wine regions that gets us wine folk most excited these days. If you haven’t paid attention to the region yet, it’s time to start.
Allen Meadows, more familiarly known as Burghound, was once asked what wines he likes to drink most from outside of Burgundy. His answer was Cote Rotie. No other region can produce wines that are closer to Burgundy in terms of weight, texture and elegance. If you like Burgundy, you almost certainly like Cote Rotie.
If you want just one way of explaining this – and Cote Rotie more generally – it is this: Cotie Rotie is the Northern Rhone in extemis. Take everything you know about the Northern Rhone, exaggerate it a little bit, and you end up with Cote Rotie. This will be a constant theme as we go about unpacking the AOC for you.
For years, Cornas was just another “value” village of the Northern Rhone, with a reputation more like St. Joseph, say, than Cote Rotie or Hermitage. It was deemed “rustic” and a source for “country” wine. Things have changed!
This is a story of a vicious cycle finally flipping a switch to become virtuous. The vicious was the usual story of decline. If people think you make “country wine” they’re not going to pay you very much for it. That makes it hard to invest in improved wine-making or to lower yields. So the wines you end up making really are “country” and the vicious circle continues.
But then somebody flipped a switch, and his name was Noel Verset. He did make country wines. But they were amazing. Soulful and honest, yes, and occasionally even a touch rustic. But, they were magic. A few people started to figure that out, starting with his importer Kermit Lynch, and Lynch’s many followers in the U.S.
Every wine needs a purpose. So what is the “purpose” of St. Joseph?
A Northern Rhone for someone who just can’t afford the big names?
Actually, in part at least, why not? I certainly have found myself studying a restaurant wine list and ending up wandering down to the St. Josephs after deciding that the Cote Roties are too expensive. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But of course St. Joseph – good St. Joseph – offers much more than that.
Its greatest wines are special in their own right. They come from terroirs that are distinct, though similar, to the great terroirs of the famous AOCs.
Some of them reach heights equal to the greatest wines in the Northern Rhone. This has even been recognized by the market, and there is now one St. Joseph that sells for more than Lafite Rothschild!
Even putting aside those special wines, St. Joseph is able to offer something unique: a Northern Rhone Syrah that typically offers more drinkability, more vibrancy and more liveliness than its famous cousins.