The Grapevine

Luke Richardson has worked in a range of venues across the UK, specialising in wine, and is now at Restaurant Dean Banks at The Pompadour in the Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh. In his column for SLTN he shares his thoughts on all things wine-related and answers your questions about wine. If you have a question for Luke email it to

Luke Richardson

Hi all! As we enter the more autumnal months, I thought I would look at some autumnal style wines this time around – specifically the Rhône Valley in the south east of France.
With a plethora of styles available, and some good value to be had, it is a much-overlooked area today.

Predominantly seen as a red wine area, there are some good whites also to be had.
Understanding a little of the geography goes a long way to helping to understand the styles of various wines, so here’s a brief run down.

In the northern Rhône, between Montelimar and Valence, Syrah (or Shiraz, same thing) is king and Viognier is queen. The top wines are nearly all 100% Syrah, although some of the appellations allow for small amounts of other grapes, but not so as you’d notice.

Moving from north to south, I’ll give a brief description of each appellation.

Starting in Côte Rotie, these are some of the best wines in the whole valley – silky, dark fruited, powerful, age-worthy… and pricey! £25+ for a decent example, look for at least three years on the vintage.

Next is Condrieu, the home of Viognier and only making white wines – ripe stone fruit like pears and peaches and often floral and delicate on the nose, but a bit tighter and punchier than other Rhône Viognier on the palate. Also pricey at £18+.

Then comes St Joseph, less well known than some other appellations and my go-to for value accordingly. Rich, dark, brooding, sometimes slightly earthy or leathery Syrah with a dose of classic pepper on the tail, £15+. Amazing with steak.

Then you’re down to the hill of Hermitage, where there is both red and white grown. These wines take an aeon to be ready – almost a decade is not unusual – and prices are stratospheric!

But worry not, as Crozes-Hermitage comes to the rescue. The wines here are much better value, and the fruit often much redder than the previous wines – but backed up by some good cassis notes. Prices start at around £10+, but it’s worth going to £13+. Also great with red meats and dishes containing mushroom, and just about approachable enough to drink on their own.

There is also a little white Crozes-Hermitage to be found, made from Marsanne and Roussane, which can be high quality for their price – around £12+. The wines tend to be rich, buttery and ripe in style, often with flavours such as apricot, peach, brioche, nuts and vanillin (from oak-ageing).

Lastly, in this northernmost section anyway, we have Cornas. Again a red wine area, these wines can almost rival the quality of Côte Rotie, but at a cost. They tend to be bigger in style, made for hearty red meat and game, and also riper than their northerly cousins. They also need three or four years on the vintage and cost around the £20+ mark.

Next time, I’ll look at the southern Rhône, with some much more affordable wines like Côtes-du-Rhône and Ventoux.

Until then, happing Rhôning!