It was the Romans who introduced the cultivation of the vine to Provence, and its vineyards were made famous when the Papal court settled in Avignon at the end of the 13th century, though it is only in recent years that it has begun to produce some really excellent wines. In viticultural terms this is the southern Côte du Rhône, and the river Rhône is second only in importance as a 'wine river' in France to the Loire. It will be familiar to many who, rushing south on the Autoroute du Soleil, glimpse stretches of its wide banks and busy river traffic.
The Rhône Valley also comes second in the amount of wine produced, this time after Bordeaux. However, it probably comes first in terms of the diversity of its wines, both in terms of quality at the top end and reliability and value for money at lower price points.
The wine-producing region stretches from Vienne in the north to Avignon in the south, with only a break in the middle of about 30 miles between Valence and Montélimar - famous for its nougat. In all there are 95 different communes making Côtes du Rhône-Villages wines (16 of which are allowed to add their village name to the name of the wine) and 117 in six regions making Côtes du Rhône.
Many grape varieties are grown, but in the southern Rhône the blend for red Côtes du Rhône is based on Grenache, which is usually mixed with Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault or Carignan. White wines are usually made from a blend of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier.