Image via @ Ralphunden
You’re probably familiar with Bordeaux, or at least aware that it makes very famous wines. And you may already know all about Shiraz, it being a staple of every supermarket wine shelf. But how much do you know about the French region of Côtes du Rhône? Well, we can start by telling you there’s plenty to know. The area is very diverse in terms of both climate and grape variety, so it goes without saying that it produces many different bottles that vary in price and style. But this doesn’t do much to help the everyday consumer when they’ve got a particular vinous request in mind, so what is going to help you differentiate between those old-fashioned looking labels? Well, let’s start from the beginning… with an introduction to the Cotes du Rhone.
Part of the larger Rhône region, the Côtes du Rhône makes up by far the largest section of this area in terms of quantity of wine produced. They have been made here since Roman times, and were some of the first to be recognised since originating in the 18th century. The basic Côtes du Rhône AC appellation is now one of the largest designated wine areas in the world, with growers, private producers, merchants and co-operatives vying to trade on this famous name.
So what goes into these bottles? Well, it depends, of course on whether you’re drinking a red, white or rose, of which all are produced here in abundance. The area is most famous for its reds, with Grenache being the predominant grape used, along with Syrah (yes, that’s Shiraz by another name), Cinsault, Carignan and Mouvèdre. Of course, it’s very unlikely you’ll see these names on the label of a bottle of Côtes du Rhône AC, but they all contribute to giving these wines their rustic, Mediterranean edge. Talking of the Mediterranean, that’s the sort of climate these grapes grow under – these varieties thrive under the strong summer sunshine. Romaine Duvernay has long been one of the most reliable negotiators in the area, supplying grapes to world class producers such as Guigal. Recently they have turned their hand to crafting both red and white Côtes du Rhône AC under their own name with classic black fruit and exotic, spicy flavours, respectively.
There is also a Côtes du Rhône Villages AC, which operates under a stricter geographical code, made from grapes from particular areas. Some common village names you might see on a label include Gigondas, Rasteau and red Beaumes de Venise. Domaine les Goubert has been operated by the same family for generations, producing complex, elegant Gigondas that displays the world class attributes of the region. “Areas like Gigondas that are not as well known as the famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape can offer good value for money. Made in the image of Châteauneuf, its higher, more rockier land, makes a rustic red that has lots of character and charm” says wine experts at Roberson Wine Anna Von Bertele.
The name of the area may be more recognisable for its entry-level wines but this region can boast of world-class labels too. You may be familiar with the dark, heavy bottles containing Châteauneuf-du-Pape AC wines. These stem from the south-eastern part of the Rhône Valley near Avignon and are made from predominantly Grenache, although up to thirteen varieties are permitted. A white wine with up to six grapes is also produced. And you remember we mentioned white and rosé before? Well, along with a large production of white Côtes du Rhône AC, one the worlds’ most famous white wines hails from here. Condrieu AOC, and in particular the wines of Chateau Grillet produced from the apricot-scented Viognier grape.
But even though this region is steeped in tradition and regulations, there are some producers bucking the rigid history. La Roche Bussière has been organically farming since 1980, but has recently started releasing some of the more interesting bottles from this area under the Vin de France label and free from strict appellation rules. So despite the air of the traditional, this classic French region has much offer in terms of experimentation, world class bottles, and, most importantly, everyday reds that exemplify the climate and rusticity of the landscape.
Carlo Pandian is an Italian expat passionate about wine, organic food and foraging. He loves contributing at Purple Travel Blog covering the French region called Côtes du Rhône, a unique place to visit for fun and pleasure. Don’t forget to bring some fine wine home if you happen to be there!