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Get to know Southern Rhône: Good, better, best

Have you ever wanted to know more about a great wine region but didn’t know where to start? Matt Walls explains what makes wines of Southern Rhône great, and to chose three bottles – good (affordable), better (medium-priced) and best (money no object) – to take you there....

Where would you like to start your journey? The airy peaks of the Dentelles de Montmirail, the wild Camargue delta, the picturesque villages of the Luberon… take your pick. The southern Rhône is a gorgeous gallimaufry of a wine region, rambling and soulful.

It’s dominated by Châteauneuf-du-Pape at its heart, but there are 40 more appellations to explore, each with its own character. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Some of the named villages – such as Côtes du Rhône Villages Séguret, Visan and Massif d’Uchaux – are home to delicious wines of place that offer unequalled value for money, within the Rhône or anywhere else.

Southern Rhône styles

Its cornucopia of grape varieties is another calling card. Grenache captures the sun and warmth of the place, propped up on either side by Syrah and Mourvèdre, with a gaggle of local specialities such as Counoise and Vaccarèse bringing detail, complexity and personality.

The result is red wines that are generous in flavour and texture, but rarely jammy or confected; they retain asavoury edge that makes them versatile with food. Most are approachable young, but try to stick some deep in the cellar. The best Châteauneuf and Gigondas only reach their full expression after a good 10 years. And let’s not forget about the opulent and expressive whites and rosés.

This is an expansive, hot, dry region, and not all wines are reliably fresh and balanced; quality is more mixed here than in northern Rhône. Getting a feel for which domaines have exceptional terroir and skilled winemaking is important. But this is a region that’s still discovering itself, so that list grows longer every year.

Good: E Guigal, Côtes du Rhône 2017 – 90 points
Better: Domaine Santa Duc, Les Hautes Garrigues, Gigondas 2016 – 95 points
Best: Clos des Papes, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2000 – 97 points


Matt Walls’ Southern Rhône picks:


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