The Wines of Northern Rhône


(tranquil guitar music)>>(narrator)
The Rhône River
in Southern France has been a cradle of viticulture
for more than 2,500 years. Most vineyards grow in
the warm southern valley near the Mediterranean
coast. Upriver, the valley
narrows and cools and the hillsides
grow steeper. (tranquil guitar music) Distinct from its southern
counterpart in climate, size, and wine character,
the Northern Rhône Valley is known for crafting
the world’s best Syrah.>>(with French accent)
If you take all the vineyards from Northern
Rhône together, it’s only 3%, maybe, of the total
of Rhône wines, in general. So it’s a pretty
small wine region.>>(narrator)
The dramatic hillsides
of Hermitage, Côte-Rôtie, and Cornas are
ancient winegrowing areas.>>(with French accent)
Believe it or not, we
grow grapes and make wines in Côte-Rôtie for
the past 2,400 years.>>(speaking French)>>(narrator)
In the Northern Rhône, Syrah is the only red grape
used for AOC wines. The grape’s birthplace has long
been the subject of debate, but recent research makes a
strong case for local origins.>>Syrah is a powerful, it’s a tannic, it’s
a structured grape, and it’s very easy to make
Syrah with big muscles, with big shoulders,
with big structure.>>We have Syrah in all the
Northern Rhône appellation, but depending
on the soil, you will have very
different types of wines. Some soil will
give the power. Some of the soil
will give the spice. Some soil will
give the fruit. So it’s a mix of different
profiles of wines.>>(narrator)
Red wines account for almost all Northern Rhône
production, but the valley’s
wine producers grow three white
grapes as well. Viognier is perhaps its most
acclaimed white variety.>>(with French accent)
The Viognier grape– it’s small grapes,
small berries. When you taste the grapes,
it’s a really perfumed grape. Often, it’s a small production
because the size of the grapes
is small.>>(narrator)
Even rarer are white wines made from Marsanne
and Roussanne. Marsanne is the more vigorous
and widely planted vine, while Roussanne accounts
for a smaller portion of most blends.>>Buying, like, a
white Saint-Joseph or a white Hermitage, or Saint-Peray,
and it’s all white– all white winemaking with
Marsanne and Roussanne. And it’s also wine
with a lot of character and especially to pair with
food. And Marsanne, Roussanne can age very well.>>(narrator)
The appellations of
the Northern Rhône Valley hug the river’s edge
as it flows southward. In the north, the valley
begins with Côte-Rôtie.>>Côte-Rôtie is very
unique in many ways, but let’s say the
fantastic slopes we have, the exposure we have,
the type of soil, the unique mix of Syrah
with Viognier is Côte-Rôtie.>>(narrator)
Côte-Rôtie wines are always red, but growers in this
appellation can choose to co-ferment Syrah
with Viognier.>>I’d say the typical
aromas of Côte-Rôtie can be the small red
fruits, licorice aromas. You know, always the
little lift of the Viognier brings a very floral note
to Côte-Rôtie. A lot of people talk about
the violet in Côte-Rôtie, which is not wrong
as well. Let’s say we have
two different styles– the Côte Blonde style, as
well as the Côte Brune style. So it starts with
a beautiful legend. At the 16th century time, the
owner of the Château d’Ampuis was the marquis de Maugiron,
would have had two daughters. One blonde-haired girl,
and when she got married, he decided to give her
half of his vineyard– the Côte Blonde. And one brunette, and
when she got married, he decided to give her the
other half– the Côte Brune. In the Côte Blonde,
the base of the soil is made of schist
and on the surface, you find the limestone
and the silica that are always making
nice Côte-Rôtie, elegant Côte-Rôtie,
soft Côte-Rôtie. While in Côte Brune,
the more northern you go in the appellation, the more
you find clay in the soil. Talking about the
vinification according to the fact that Côte-Rôtie is located
in the northern part of the Rhône Valley, and this
is the northern appellation of the entire Rhône–
very logically, the harvest happens
quite late. And because it’s late,
we’re not afraid by whole clusters
and especially stems. So we are happy to
keep stems in vintages that are ripe enough. And I’m convinced that
the stems can bring, let’s say, a stability in the
wine which is interesting.>>(narrator)
Hermitage, a single hill on the river’s eastern bank,
has long been famous for both red
and white wines. For reds, Syrah may be
blended with up to 15% of Marsanne
and Roussanne. For the tiny quantity of
Hermitage white wines, Marsanne is often
the primary grape.>>Hermitage has
the perfect exposure– it’s all facing south, just because the Rhône
around Hermitage is not running
from north to south but is curving, and it
goes from west to east. And also, what makes Hermitage
is the complexity in soils. So even if it’s
a small area– it’s 125 hectares
all together– we have all different
type of soils and extreme in the difference
from the acidic soil to the basic soil. Great Hermitage needs to have
the power and the finesse. The structure,
the tight tannins, but also the
softness. It needs the bones
and the flesh. And the aroma
is the same. You need some ripeness, but
you don’t need to be overripe. You need to be
very defined. Some of the fruit will
be slightly cooked. Maybe a little bit jammy
for the generosity, but, at the end, you
still have some flower, you still have
some cherries. It’s like– it’s always a
matter of balance, Hermitage.>>(narrator)
Unlike Côte-Rôtie and Cornas, Hermitage fruit is often
destemmed prior to fermentation.>>(speaking French)>>(narrator)
The Northern Rhône’s
most famous wines account for only
a small part of the region’s
total production. Over 80% of the
region’s vineyards are in two larger
appellations– Crozes-Hermitage
and Saint-Joseph.>>Hermitage is
very important, is “the place.” And then, Crozes-Hermitage–
the problem, it uses “Hermitage” in its name, and it’s a
whole different place. Crozes-Hermitage is mostly
located on the flats in the Rhône Valley. I will say Crozes-Hermitage
is more about the fruit than the soil. (mellow clarinet music) In Crozes-Hermitage,
the wines will stay as the simplicity, but from
the beauty of Northern Rhône. The good fruit, the good
acidity, and easygoing wines. Saint-Joseph– it’s an
appellation in Northern Rhône that is not related to
a city or to a village, so it’s why sometimes
difficult for people to locate– to be able
to locate Saint-Joseph, because it’s
just a name. So it’s actually difficult
to define Saint-Joseph, except that maybe the
way– the common thing is the soil,
is granite. Most of the Saint-Joseph,
they have morning sun. But the sun tends to
disappear quite fast in the afternoon. So the Saint-Joseph
is all about the tightness of the tannins,
the purity of the fruit. It’s not a big wine–
it’s a fresh wine.>>(narrator)
Many lovers of Viognier feel the grape reaches
its top potential in Condrieu.>>So Viognier, now
it’s a variety planted all over the world,
but 50 years ago, there was Viognier
only at Condrieu. Condrieu– it’s the
birthplace of these grapes. It’s very aromatic. It’s aromas of peach, apricot,
and flower, too, violet. And it’s a wine with
not a lot of acidity, but it’s a dry wine,
but it looks like sweet wine. It works well, also,
with foie gras, because it’s rich,
so with foie gras, it’s paired
perfectly.>>(narrator)
The Northern Rhône Valley is the classic home for
Syrah and Viognier in France. Today, the region is
experiencing a renaissance, as areas forgotten or
dismissed by critics are gaining renewed
attention. Ambitious new growers join
famous, established houses in delivering high-quality
wines across the entire valley and in every
appellation.>>The Northern Rhône
has a great future because we have
true terroir. Wine’s very loyal to
where they come from and that’s the beauty
of Northern Rhône. (orchestral music)>>(narrator)
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