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.
The most important grape of the Northern Rhone Valley, Syrah is quickly becoming one of the most noted grapes planted in America. America's best bottlings hail from the Central Coast, Santa Barbara, Sonoma County and Napa Valley. Syrah displays a spicy blend of black pepper and raspberries, with dark fruit undertones; full-bodied with smoke, tar and tannins. It is made into a few magnificent varietally labeled wines, but is also often the base grape for Rhone-style blends. There are those who believe that the Napa Valley should be planted mostly to Syrah, for it thrives in warm growing regions. In Australia, where it is the most-planted red variety, and in South Africa, the grape is known as Shiraz. While viticulturally identical with Syrah, Shiraz grown in Australia is typically sweeter and riper, with more chocolately notes than pepper and spices.