Deep in the south of France lies the Rhône Valley. Here, the land is fed by the eponymous river, which travels more than 500 miles from the Alps to the Mediterranean Sea. In the north, the narrow valley and a wind known as la bise keeps temperatures slightly cooler, while in the south, a warmer Mediterranean climate and another wind, le mistral, dry the soil and clear the air so that days are sunny and bright. Throw in fertile soil with granite, sand, limestone and clay, and you've got all the essential ingredients to grow some of the world's best wines.
With these qualities, it's no surprise that the Greeks chose the Rhône Valley to grow grapes almost 2,000 years ago. The Romans went on to refine the region's wine cultivation, building villas and wineries to capitalise on the grape production – laying the foundations for a wine-growing tradition that was loved by kings, and the popes that lives at Avignon. In 1729, a royal decree declared all wine barrels must be branded with the initials C.D.R. (Côtes du Rhône) to distinguish their quality.
Today, the Rhône Valley is France's second-largest wine appellation and the Côtes du Rhône (the main appellation of the region) grows 23 different grape varietals. And with so many grapes at their fingertips, the area's wine-making wizards can work their magic to produce a wide variety of different styles to suit any taste or budget. The Côtes du Rhône appellation is mainly associated with red wines – but the region produces incredibles whites and rosés, too.
The wines are so loved that they're woven into the area's very culture. In Avignon, the beating heart of the region, the restaurants and bars showcase the best of the area's wines. Annual events, including the Bar à Vins des Côtes du Rhône in July, the Ban de Vendange (harvest celebrations) in late August, or the Millévin Festival celebrating the new vintage in November are all testament to a local community that is passionate about its produce.
If you want to get a taste of the Côtes du Rhône, there are hundreds of wines to choose from – but you know that no matter what you choose, you're getting a wine of the highest quality. Here are four of our favourite wines to get you started on your oenophile journey.