#newwinethisweek Week 38 – Côtes du Rhône
Mike may have got the better of me last week with Malbec but this week he is back on my Christmas card list as he has gone for spicy Côtes du Rhône from the Southern Rhône Valley!
The smell of lavender, fennel, dried rosemary and thyme fills the air of the Southern Rhône, where spicy Grenache is the champion grape. Wines made with Grenache have brambly fruit flavours and lovely spicy and herby notes, often with lashings of black pepper and after a few years they start to smell like Christmas. This is a very inviting region with extremely inviting wines. The classification system is straightforward, although not always a true indicator of quality; it pays to know the winemaker as well as the classification, as a good winemaker’s Côtes du Rhône can be far superior to a bad one’s Chateuneuf du Pape.
There are a plethora of grape varieties planted in the area. For reds you’ll find Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Carignan, and quite a few others. But the Southern Rhône is also home to a whole host of white varieties: Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, Viognier and Picopoul, to name but a few. In fact there are a total of 18 varieties permitted in the blend of Chateuneuf-du-Pape!
The classification starts with basic Côtes du Rhône, which stretches over 200km and covers over 83,000 hectares of vineyards; this is our focus for the week. The next step up the quality pyramid to Côtes du Rhône Villages (approx. 3,000ha), which is a selection of 95 communes making better quality wine. Next it’s the “named” Côtes du Rhône Villages, which over the years have consistently produced better quality wines and are allowed to append the village name to the label; there are 18 of these villages, my favourites being Sablet and Cairanne. Finally, we come to the “Crus”; these are villages and areas that have consistently produced top-notch wine and have earned the right to simply call the wine by where it’s from. The key Southern Rhône Crus are Lirac, Rasteau, Beaumes de Venise, Vaqueyras, Vinsobres, Gigondas and, the most famous of all, Chateuneuf du Pape. All of these “Crus” have Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) status for red wines, but only some are allowed to use the village name for whites and rosé; Tavel, for instance only has AOC status for rosé wines, and Vaqueyras, we learnt during our stay there last summer, is the only Cru where the AC covers Red, White and Rose.
I am going to give selections this week at a few levels of the quality pyramid – this is a great week to consider the price vs. quality equation for French red wine… and its an excuse for me to crack open a bottle of Vacqueyras or Gigondas!
And this is probably the best Côtes du Rhône on the market, from a fine domaine, a fine vintage and worth every penny for the ‘lowly’ appellation:
Don’t forget to head on over to Mike’s site to leave your score and comments… drink well!