Rh\u00f4ne grapes,\u00a0Rh\u00f4ne Valley, Rh\u00f4ne-style wines, Rh\u00f4ne rangers\u2026you may have heard these terms bandied about, but what do they actually mean?\n\nFirst things first: The Rh\u00f4ne, a major river in France, rises in the Alps and flows south to the Mediterranean Sea. This river lends its name to the southern French wine region on its banks, the\u00a0Rh\u00f4ne Valley, as well as its major AOC, C\u00f4tes du Rh\u00f4ne.\n\nThe indigenous grape varieties that grow in the region, like Syrah, Grenache, Mourv\u00e8dre, Viognier and Roussanne, are often referred to as Rh\u00f4ne grapes. So, regardless of their place of origin, wines made from these grapes are said to be Rh\u00f4ne-style wines the world over.\nWhy Rh\u00f4ne-style wines?\nWhile wine has been made in Asia Minor and Europe for thousands of years, some regions, referred to as the New World, evolved later. In the Old World, grape varieties evolved alongside the regions from which they were grown. It\u2019s why many European wines are known by their region, rather than grape variety. Rioja, Champagne and Chianti are prime examples, while villages like Pommard and Chablis are used to identify the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines produced from each, respectively.\n\nIn contrast, New World wine regions evolved as immigrants planted grapes brought from their homelands, primarily those popular in Europe. Sometimes this worked, and sometimes not. As wine in the Americas expanded in popularity and reach over the past 50 years, many New World growers looked to the most prestigious regions in France for inspiration.\n\nThis is why Cabernet Sauvignon, forever entwined with the great wines of Bordeaux (and to a lesser degree, Merlot), became so heavily planted throughout the New World.\n\n\n\nThis trend worked well in places that were climatically and geologically suited to those of these Old World grapes. Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is a great example. In cooler regions, winemakers also started to experiment with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the red and white grapes associated with the great wines of Burgundy.\n\nAs winemakers and grape growers learned more about the climate and soils of their new homes, the indigenous grapes of the Rh\u00f4ne emerged as an interesting prospect. However, being less recognizable than varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, the term \u201cRh\u00f4ne-style\u201d became useful shorthand for wines made from the region\u2019s native grapes.\n\n\nThe Rh\u00f4ne wine region\nThe Rh\u00f4ne is one of the classic French wine regions. It starts in central France, just south of Lyon, stretching almost to the Mediterranean Sea. The region comprises many storied appellations (defined areas with legally mandated grapes and wine styles) that take their name from communes along the river.\n\nThe wine world makes a distinction between the Northern Rh\u00f4ne, which runs from the town of Vienne to just south of Valence and claims Syrah as its chief red grape, and the Southern Rh\u00f4ne, south of Valence to just south of Avignon. There, grapes like Syrah, Grenache, Mourv\u00e8dre, Cinsault, Carignan and Counoise are made into red blends, while Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier and Clairette are popular choices for white blends.\n\nThe appellations of the Northern Rh\u00f4ne Valley, from north to south, are:\n\n \tC\u00f4te-R\u00f4tie: Red wine made from Syrah, often planted and vinified with the white grape Viognier, which makes the inky color of Syrah even darker. Named after the steep, rocky vineyards, the region\u2019s name translates to \u201cbaked slope.\u201d\n \tCondrieu: White wine made from Viognier.\n \tCh\u00e2teau Grillet: White wine made from Viognier.\n \tSaint-Joseph: Red wine made from Syrah, white wine made from Marsanne and Roussanne.\n \tCrozes-Hermitage: Red wine made from Syrah, white wine made from Marsanne and Roussanne.\n \tHermitage: Red wine made from Syrah, white wine made from Marsanne and Roussanne\n \tCornas: Red wine made from Syrah.\n \tSaint-P\u00e9ray: White wine made from Marsanne and Roussanne.\n\n\nNorthern Rh\u00f4ne reds made with Syrah are big, bold, spicy wines with a firm tannic structure in their youth, while Southern Rh\u00f4ne red blends are based mainly on Grenache and have rounded, warm, red fruit flavors.\n\nThe Southern Rh\u00f4ne Valley has a wealth of appellations that stretch from either side of the river into the mountains and valleys. Some of the more famous ones are:\n\n \tCh\u00e2teauneuf-du-Pape: Red and white wines made from blends of Syrah, Grenache, Mourv\u00e8dre, Cinsault, Muscardin, Counoise, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Picardan, Piquepoul, Roussanne, Terret Noir and Vaccar\u00e8se.\n \tC\u00f4tes du Rh\u00f4ne and\u00a0C\u00f4tes du Rh\u00f4ne Villages: This covers a vast area and stands for red and ros\u00e9 wines made primarily from Grenache, Syrah, Mourv\u00e8dre, and white wines made primarily from primarily Grenache blanc, Clairette, Marsanne, Roussanne , Bourboulenc and Viognier. Some of these C\u00f4tes du Rh\u00f4ne Villages are called Rh\u00f4ne Crus and make wines under slightly more stringent regulations. Notable villages of this latter designation are Vinsobres, Rasteau, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Lirac and Tavel.\n\n\nWhat does a Rh\u00f4ne wine taste like?\nNorthern Rh\u00f4ne reds made with Syrah are big, bold, spicy wines with a firm tannic structure in their youth. Depending on the appellation, the wines can be rustic, even meaty, or supremely elegant, often with floral overtones. The best of these wines have very long aging potential.\n\nThe Northern Rh\u00f4ne whites based from Viognier are aromatic, full-bodied wines reminiscent of apricot and summer blossom. When aged in oak, they can be supremely creamy. Whites based on Marsanne and Roussanne, either alone or blended, are underrated. They create fascinating table wines due to their herbal aromas, full body and wonderful texture.\n\nSouthern Rh\u00f4ne red blends are based mainly on Grenache and have rounded, warm, red fruit flavors. They tend to have elevated alcohol levels and beautiful ripe fruit. The best reds have the earthy-herbal scent of garrigue, local scrub comprised of bay, lavender, rosemary and juniper.\n\nSome of these wines are rustic and inky, while others are lyrical and light. Southern Rh\u00f4ne wines can range from simple, easy summer wines to very complex, oak-aged whites like Ch\u00e2teauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, which are rounded and best enjoyed after a few years of bottle age.\n\nFor an idea of how Syrah, Grenache and Mourv\u00e8dre taste in the New World, check our primer on when the same grapes have different names.\nRh\u00f4ne Styles in America & The Rhone Rangers\nTo New World consumers, Rh\u00f4ne varieties weren\u2019t as easily grasped as more familiar grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Chardonnay. So, a group of winemakers around California\u2019s Central Coast united to form the Rhone Rangers. Led by figures like Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard, Bob Lindquist of Qup\u00e9 and the Haas Family at Tablas Creek in Paso Robles, they united to promote Rh\u00f4ne varieties. Today, the association is active with chapters in California, Michigan, Virginia and Arizona.