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The Rhône Valley became a prestigious wine region upon arrival of the Romans in 125BC, when it is said that the Syrah and Viognier grapes were introduced to the region and are still widely planted throughout the region to this day.
The history of the Southern Rhône is rich and varied. The towns of Orange and Vaison-la-Romaine have significant Roman heritage. Once outside the towns, the region boasts some spectacular scenery and attractive villages. The Dentelles rise up behind the villages of Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Beaumes de Venise, while the Mont Ventoux provides an even more spectacular backdrop to the region. The capital of the department is Avignon and whilst this city was important in Roman times, it is the structures of the 12th-14th Centuries for which it is justifiably famous. The southern part of the region, where the river Rhône meanders into the beautiful countryside of Provence, enjoys an enviable 2600 hours of Mediterranean sunshine per year.
The Northern Rhône’s climate is controlled by the mistral wind which defines its harsh winters and warm summers and the region boasts many prestigious wine-making villages such as Hérmitage and Condrieu. Lyon, the second biggest metropolis in France is the capital of the region. A major centre of business with a reputation as the French capital of gastronomy, the city is famed for its historical and architectural landmarks and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Southern Rhône is most famous for its big red wines; in particular the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape can be superb. However, the villages surrounding the Dentelles offer some very attractive less famous wines at a fraction of the price. In particular, some of the wine-makers in the villages of Gigondas, Vacqueryas and Rasteau are producing some excellent wines.
The wines of the Northern Rhône are slightly different to those of the Southern Rhône because the climates differ slightly, with the Northern Rhône being cooler. The red wines produced here can be identified by green olive and smoky bacon aromas and the Syrah grape is the only red grape variety that is permitted in red AOC wines from the Northern Rhône. TheAOCrules permit the blending of Syrah grapes with the white grapes of Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne, however this is only practised widely in the Côte-Rôtie appellation. The white wines of the Northern Rhône are generally blends of Marsanne and Rousanne or pure Viognier.