France’s Rhone Valley has two climates. The Northern Rhone’s steeper river-side slopes are up near chilly Burgundy. Here Syrah is the lone red grape and ripens slowly into its supreme expression in classics like Hermitage: intense but lighter-bodied, spicy and ethereal. Flowing south the landscape flattens out, opening to the baking Mediterranean. Down here Syrah revealed fuller, meatier aspects but ended up playing second fiddle (with Mourvèdre et al) to the even more sun-loving grape, Grenache. The softness and body of Grenache fills and sweetens most Southern Rhone blends, from basic Cotes du Rhone (mostly Southern) to village classics like Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Rosés like Tavel. Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne remain at home in the North but can mix with grapes like Grenache Blanc and Clairette in the Southern Rhone's blanc wines.
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