Cotes du Rhone Wines: Great Value from the Rhone Valley

Wines from the Rhone Valley in France can be great values especially those wines labeled Cotes du Rhone.  Cotes du Rhone is an AOC wine whose territory extends over the Rhone Valley from Vienne in the north to Avignon in the south.  Cote means hillside and Rhone is the famous river that runs thru southeastern France.  The AOC spans across areas in both the northern and southern Rhone Valleys.  Cotes du Rhone is often referred to as a generic appellation because it is the lowest level of AOC wines and covers such a large area.  All though not the subject of this article, the AOC Cotes du Rhone Villages allows for “better” wines coming from one of the allowed villages.  These will be explored in a future article. 

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Wines have been produced in the Rhone Valley since Roman times.  In the 1600s, regulations were created governing the production of wines on the right bank of the Cote du Rhone.  In 1737, it was ordered that CDR was branded on the casks of wine being shipped from the port at Roquemaure on the Rhone.  When the left bank was included in the official AOC appellation, the name was changed to Cotes du Rhone. 

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In reality, most of the grapes used in Cotes du Rhone wines are from the southern Rhone Valley.  Over 10,000 growers produce more than 400 million bottles of Cotes du Rhone wine each year.  There are over 170 communes covered in this mammoth appellation which includes six departments:  Ardèche, Drôme, Gard, Loire, Rhône and Vaucluse.  As you might expect for such a vast region, the soil types vary from clay or sand or stones in the mountains.

Almost of all of the Cotes du Rhone wine produced is red.  The few wines made in the north will have a majority of Syrah and are known as Cotes du Rhone septentrional.  Since they are picked, by hand, on steep hillsides, these wines are more expensive but can have a greater depth of flavor.  The wines made in the south, by far the greater number, are called Cotes du Rhone méridional and are made from a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignane or Cinsault with at least 40% from Grenache.  In addition, 5% may be a permitted white grape.  The whites are made mostly from Clairette, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Bourboulenc, or Viognier.  Some Ugni Blanc and Picpoul Blanc (less than 20%) is allowed as well.  Rose wines are also made.  They may have a maximum of 20% white grapes.  All wines must have a minimum alcohol content of 11%.

A plethora of producers in this region employ a multitude of methods of winemaking.  Styles range from those using Carbonic Maceration to make light fruity wines (See Wines of Burgundy's Beaujolais Wine Region: Quality You Might Not Expect) to more serious high quality efforts that are capable of ageing for a few years.  Typically, a Cotes du Rhone will be ruby in color to an inky purple.  They are easy to drink but have a complexity from the mix of varietals.  The better reds age and develop an earthiness to them.  The red wines match nicely with almost all foods except for the lightest of fish dishes when, the whites make a great pairing.  The white wines tend to be light golden in color with aromas of peach and flowers.  They are nice by themselves before a meal or with lighter fare. 

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.