The Rhone Valley of southern France is a particularly fascinating wine region, with a history that stretches back to at least six hundred BCE, when the ancient Greeks first began cultivating vines there. The region itself is split into two distinct sub-regions, with the northern sub-region being famed for its production of exceptional Syrah, Marsanne, Roussane and Viognier wines, packed full of interesting character and expressing the terroir found there. The southern sub-region is home to an enormous variety of grapes, and produces red, white and rosé wines, and some of the world's most famous and adored blended wines. The continental climate of the region is ideal for growing grapes, and the winds which blow from the Central Massif help temper the heat in the vineyards, leading to very ripe fruits holding plenty of flavor.
Viognier, an exotic, elusive varietal, originally comes from the Northern Rhone Valley of France, and has captured the fascination of the U.S. wine-drinking public. At its finest, it is full-bodied and nearly golden in color, with a haunting bouquet of peaches, apricots and pears, and a floral quality like no other wine in the world. Many vintners are trying their hand at this varietal, spreading from its American beginnings in Napa Valley and Santa Barbara County to wineries as far away as Virginia. Marsanne and Rousanne, two other important varieties from the Rhone Valley are making waves in the U.S., particularly on the Central Coast of California.
Hermitage is the northern Rhone's most famous red wine appellation. A small district, Hermitage produces remarkably rich, deeply-colored, aromatic red wines made only from Syrah, and complex white wines blended from Marsanne and Roussane. In the 18th and 19th century, Hermitage wines commanded prices akin to First-Growth Bordeaux.
Hermitage is located on a granitic hill of about 311 acres, with southern exposure, and a number of different soil types divided into various climats within the vineyard. The granite and exposure encourage optimal ripening of the grapes. So closely is the variety Syrah identified with the appellation that in Australia, Hermitage is sometimes used as a synonym for Shiraz (the Australian name for Syrah).