Log In / Join Now

Ask Dr. Vinny

Do you have a question for Dr. Vinny? Ask it here...

Dear Dr. Vinny,

What is the difference between France's Northern and Southern Rhône Valleys?

—Steve, Federal Way, Wash.

Dear Steve,

If you’re learning about the Rhône Valley—and you really should, it’s one of the world’s greatest wine regions—you should check out James Molesworth’s Rhône coverage. I’ll skim over the basics here, but please realize there is a lot more to explore, and many amazing wines to fall in love with.

For starters, the entire Rhône Valley is in southern France, centered around the Rhône River. The Northern Rhône is generally cooler than the south. Here, Syrah is the lone variety used for red wines (sometimes blended with a touch of Viognier), while Marsanne and Roussanne, along with Viognier, produce white wines.

In the Southern Rhône, there’s a much different take on what can be planted. There are 10 red grapes allowed; the most widely planted is Grenache, then Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignane and Cinsault. Most of the wines are blends of several grapes. Southern Rhône whites are also made from a mix of different grapes, chiefly including Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Clairette, Bourboulenc and Picpoul.

In the Rhône, wines are bottled by region, not varietal. In the north, the two leading appellations for red wines are Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie, while Condrieu is home to some terrific Viognier bottlings. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the Southern Rhône’s most famous subregion, but the most widely produced wines in the Rhône carry the Côtes du Rhône appellation. Other major Southern Rhône designations include Gigondas and Vacqueyras.

—Dr. Vinny

Wine Basics

We break down the basics—how to taste, serve, store and more. Plus:
» Maps of major wine regions
» Grape variety characteristics

How-to Videos

Learn to taste wine like a pro, pull a cork with flair, get great wine service in a restaurant and more

Wine Spectator School: All courses are FREE for WineSpectator.com Members

Learn from the experts and get the most out of each sip. Take one of our online courses or take them all—from the ABCs of Tasting to in-depth seminars on Food Pairing, California Cabernet, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Sensory Evaluation and more.

Browse our course catalog
Check out the professional wine sales and service courses
Learn Wine Forum: Got questions? Get answers

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.