Why You Should Get to Know Côtes du Rhône Wine
An important region since the Roman Empire because it links the Mediterranean with the Atlantic, Côtes du Rhône is a geographical grape-growing region (known as an AOC, or Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) in France's Rhône Valley. Today, it's well known for its wines, and while you're probably most familiar with the hearty red wines of the region, there are also wonderful white and rosé wines produced in this area. "Côtes du Rhône" translates to "hillsides of the Rhône" and the region spans 171 communes along the Rhône river. The terroir is rich and varied, the sunshine is bountiful.
What Is the Flavor Profile of Côtes du Rhône Wine?
The red wines and rosés of the region are generally made from blends of different red grape varieties, like grenache, syrah, mourvedre, and cinsault. Twenty-one different grapes are permitted to be used but grenache is the dominant player, and it must make up at least 30 percent of the final blend. The wines are rich and full-bodied, with grenache bringing a rich texture and fruity notes of plum and dark cherries, syrah bringing spice and earth tones, and mourvedre providing an excellent firm tannic structure.
For the whites, 80 percent of the final blend must be grenache blanc, but clairette, marsanne, roussanne, bourboulenc, and viognier are also commonly used. These white wines are medium to full-bodied, with flavors of peach, honey, almonds, and flowers.
Côtes du Rhône's Climate and Categories
The Côtes du Rhône has a Mediterranean climate, with hot and dry summers which help the grapes achieve optimal ripeness. The river banks and surrounding area are notoriously rocky: the smooth, round stones covering the vineyards provide excellent water retention also help radiate the daytime heat throughout the cool evenings.
There are two main wine categories of the Côtes du Rhône: the basic Côtes du Rhône wines, and a second category called Côtes du Rhône Villages, which is a step up the pyramid in terms of quality. The basic Côtes du Rhône wines are food-friendly and excellent values, with terrific bottles available for under $20. We recommend Jean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles Rouge Côtes du Rhône 2017 ($14.99, wine.com), E. Guigal Rouge Côtes du Rhône 2016 ($14.99, wine.com), and Domaine St. Gayan Rouge Côtes du Rhône 2016 ($16.99, wine.com).
Côtes du Rhône Villages is a special designation that wine producers in the area can apply for. Their wines have to go through a rigorous tasting panel, and once they make the grade, they can even state the name of their village on the wine label (which you will never see in basic Côtes du Rhône that's meant to represent a vast area). The criteria to qualify as a Villages wine involves minimum alcohol levels that must be reached, and grape yields are capped. Ninety-five villages are in the Côtes du Rhône Villages growing region, but so far, only twenty-one have officially met the quality standards required to allow them to include the village name on the label. This special designation was established in 1966, and it's been an excellent opportunity for local wineries to show the quality and diversity that's possible in the area. These are fun to explore, for a more elevated experience than the basic AOC. Try Domaine de la Janasse Terre d'Argile 2016 Côtes du Rhône Villages ($29.99, wine.com) or Famille Perrin Rouge Côtes du Rhône Villages 2017 ($13.99, wine.com).
What Foods Do Côtes du Rhône Wines Pair Best With?
These are generous, rich, full-flavored wines that pair nicely with food. The reds of the Côtes du Rhône are classically served with hearty dishes like Marinated Duck Breast with Sautéed Potatoes, Cassoulet, Classic Beef Stew, Roast Leg of Lamb, and hard cheeses.