The changing face of the Rhône Valley
The Rhône is renowned for famous appellations such as Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas. But being well-known does not necessarily mean that the wines of the region are set in stone. Like any other region, the Rhône has had to develop to keep up with tastes in wine and innovations in winemaking, and these days climate change is forcing further evolution on the region’s winemakers, as a new book from The Classic Wine Library reveals.
Two years ago, when Rhône specialist Matt Walls first started writing Wines of the Rhône he hoped it would provide a welcome respite from the political upheavals around the world, particularly in his native Britain and in France. He soon discovered a world of constant change, requiring many alterations of his text over the course of its writing (including the addition of a new appellation just weeks before the book went to press).
The evidence for changing climate, which comes both from the accounts of growers and scientific observation, has seen wine producers change their approach both in vineyard and in cellar. With harvests getting earlier, this can lead to uneven ripeness and growers having to choose between unripe flavours and very high alcohol levels, so one key development has been a change in the varieties favoured in various parts of the region.
Market demands have altered, with more consumers seeking organic and natural wines, and some newer appellations, such as Cairanne, born in 2015, have baked restricted use of additions such as herbicides and sulphur into their specifications. But the climate here does not necessarily favour natural wines, or even organics, for while dry weather can mean a reduced need for chemicals in the vineyard, climate change also means inconsistent conditions, which have on occasion seen growers faced with a choice between spraying or a failed crop. Some winemakers find it hard to see a long future for the region, and while Walls praises the efforts of its producers to adapt, he criticizes what he sees as a lack of foresight in terms of addressing the climate change itself, e.g. through the use of green energy or more lightweight bottles and packaging.
Regardless of what the future may hold there is still much to enjoy, and Walls is a highly knowledgeable guide to the region, deftly detailing the terroir and the typical wine styles of each appellation, from the famous crus to hidden gems. Arguably, the best way to understand a region is through its producers and here Walls has enlisted the help of around 200, interviewing many, tasting their wines and presenting profiles detailing what to expect from the wines of each (including some tips on bargains to be had). There is something surprising and exciting here for everyone, from the Rhône newbie to the long-time fan.
About the author
Matt Walls is a freelance wine writer and consultant based in London and Avignon. He is a contributing editor at Decanter and writes regular articles for magazines and websites such as Foodism, Club Oenologique and timatkin.com. He won the Best Newcomer award at the 2013 Fortnum & Mason Food and Drink Awards for Drink Me!, his first book on wine, which has sold over 10,000 copies. He publishes a popular wine blog, www.mattwalls.co.uk, for which he won International Wine & Spirit Competition Blogger of the Year in 2015. When not writing, he advises restaurants on wine lists, hosts tastings, judges food and wine competitions and develops wine apps. Matt is interested in all areas of wine, but specializes in the Rhône. He is Regional Chair for the Rhône at the Decanter World Wine Awards.
Wines of the Rhônewas published by Infinite Ideas on 25 January 2021.
ISBN: 9781999619329, pb, rrp £30, 234 x 156mm, 390pp.
Also available as an eBook.
Review copies available from firstname.lastname@example.org; 07802 443957