France: The Rhône
The narrow valley of the Rhône south of Lyon is the spiritual home of Syrah. Here the vineyards crawl up the steep slopes, largely on the west side of the river. As Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage and Cornas become steadily more expensive, we continue to champion the cause of St. Joseph, which shares similarly sparse soils derived from decayed granite.
The valley of the Rhône broadens out east and west of Orange, offering a huge hot, dry, windswept - the infamous Mistral - area perfect for the vine. The flat plain produces largely Côtes du Rhône, whilst the better villages - e.g. Cairanne or Sablet - or appellations - Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Vacqueyras, Gigondas, Beaumes-de-Venise - lie all, or in part, on the hills.
Southern Rhône reds are based on at least two-thirds Grenache, blended with any combination of Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsaut, Carignan and others. Whites are fast improving, with modern, fresh styles based on Roussanne, Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Clairette.