The lands on either side of the Rhone River in western Provence have some of the most fertile terroir in France, giving rise to the prestige of the Rhone Valley Region of over 1,000 vineyards. If you're visiting France and want to explore a wine region that also has plenty of history and beautiful villages to boot, then you want to come to the Rhone Valley.
Because the long region runs north to south along the river's path, there are two separate sub-regions. The northern of the two are greatly affected by the Massif Central mountain range, and this the soil is tougher and the temperature swings are greater from season to season. The southern sub-region, on the other hand, is generally more mild throughout the year, but daily temperature swings are a factor in the terroir; its pebbly soil helps to retain the heat of the day to protect the vines at night.
The Cotes du Rhone classification is popular worldwide; surely you've seen this on your own wine store shelves, and there are great deals to be had with these labels, particularly the Cote du Rhone AOC. If you see “ Cotes du Rhone” on the label along with the words “Villages AOC” and a village name – for example, Saint-Gervais or Laudun – then you're in for a real treat, as these are a cut above your average Rhone wines. But the highest level also known as the “crus,” will simply be a village name and the acronym AOC, which stands for appellation d'origine contrôlée. A good example of this is the Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOC; it is a Rhone Valley wine, but its name is enough as to not need further explanation on its label.