Is Chateauneuf-du-Pape Really the King of Southern Rhone Red Wines?

The Rhone Report: About Rhone and Rhone-Style Wines and Winemakers is part of an ongoing series.

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The most famous appellation in the southern Rhone Valley is Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Wine critic Robert Parker makes no bones about loving Chateauneuf, and calls it the most important appellation in the entire Rhone Valley. According to reputation, the French appellation contrôllée system and market prices, the pecking order of southern Rhone wines is something like this: Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Beaumes-de-Venise, Vinsobres, Cotes-du-Rhone Villages Cairanne (and Rasteau, Seguret and Sablet), Cotes-du-Rhone Villages from other named villages, Cotes-du-Rhone Villages (with no named village) and finally generic Cotes-du-Rhone. Check out our discussion about the various Rhone appellations.

We have greatly enjoyed outstanding wines from each of these appellations. And we are second to none in our admiration of some of the wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. As we noted in an earlier column, there is no single Chateauneuf style. Rather there is great diversity among the wines of this heralded appellation. We have favorites among several of these styles, from the Mourvedre-rich blend of Chateau Beaucastel to the wine of Les Cailloux, Clos des Papes, Domaine de la Mordoree, Domaine Roger Sobon and Domaine du Vieux-Telegraphe. See our discussion of Chateauneuf du Pape.

We also love many of the wines from Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Beaumes-de-Venise, the Cotes-du-Rhone Villages from Cairanne, Rasteau, Seguret and Sablet, as well as some generic Cotes-du-Rhone. We wrote about some of these other wines previously. We also wrote about outstanding generic Cotes-du-Rhone.

The Question of Which Appellation’s Wines is “Best”

We have enjoyed the occasional opportunity to taste two or more Rhone wines from different producers and different appellations together to compare and contrast them (we have more commonly tasted multiple wines from the same appellation at the same time). But we haven’t had the opportunity to taste a broad group of excellent wines from the best of the southern Rhone appellations at one time. We have been wondering whether a good Chateauneuf-du-Pape would trump an excellent Cotes-du-Rhone Villages Rasteau, for example, or whether a really fine Gigondas would put a Cotes-du-Rhone Villages Cairanne to shame. By reputation and market prices, there should be such noticeable advantages. But that isn’t true according to our memories. Where is the truth? Are the more famous wines really better and are they really worth more money? Or are the top wines from the top producers in each of these appellations really on a level playing field?

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.