One of Europe’s major rivers, the Rhône runs from Lake Geneva in the Swiss Alps through Lyon in France past Tournon, Valence, Montelimar and Avignon to the Mediterranean at Arles.
The vineyards of France’s Côtes du Rhône Appellation have been growing grapes to make wine since Roman times. In the 19th century what was then referred to as Côte du Rhône became the Côtes du Rhône, when it was extended to include the vineyards on the Rhône’s left-bank.
Although there are 21 different grape varieties permitted, Grenache with its fruity flavours and body is the primary red variety in the blend. Syrah and Mourvèdre give the wines their spicy aromas, and a colour and structure suitable for ageing. Cinsault adds an earthy edge and peppery finesse.
An unusually affordable example, Eclat du Rhône Côtes du Rhône (842179) $13.49 offers aromas of dried strawberry and blackberry. Aromas of cherries, ‘bouquet garni’ garrigue and leather are also apparent. Dark fruit flavours ride a base of spicy pepper.
Celliers des Princes – in the commune of Courthezon – is the leading cooperative in the Chateauneuf du Pape appellation. Created in 1924, the name of the cooperative was changed in 1960 to Cellier des Princes. Altogether, 240 growers are involved in the cooperative.
Primarily Grenache with 30 per cent Syrah, Domaine de la Cote Côtes du Rhône (212068) 17.29 features dusky aromas and flavours of strawberries, blackcurrants, liquorice and olives. Sage and earthy peppery notes keep the sturdy finish interesting.
The Gabriel Meffre Winery began in 1936, when Gabriel and his wife, both passionate about wine, created their ‘Négociant-Vinificateur’ business in Gigondas. Gabriel passed away in 1987.
Half Grenache and half Syrah, Meffre’s Hommage Côtes du Rhône (121346) $18.49 is a tribute to Gabriel fashioned from grapes grown on vines on clay limestone soils in the north of Vaucluse and Gard. This is a delicious and remarkably light Côtes du Rhône red!
Elsewhere in the south of France other regions and appellations make blended reds from the same grapes. Once known as Vin de Pays – a cut above Vin de Table or Vin de France – Cotes Catalanes IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée) covers non-AOC/AOP wines from the area west of Minervois to the Spanish border.
No Côtes du Rhône, then, Penya Rouge Cotes Catalanes IGP (199709) $21.98 is, however, a sturdy blend of 52 per cent Grenache, 36 per cent Carignan and 12 per cent Syrah. Relatively full-bodied with aromas and flavours of ripe plums and cherries with smoky, peppery notes. Ripe tannins add weight to the finish and a meaty hint of bacon.
Under the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system, wineries making Côtes du Rhône Villages wines are required to adhere to stricter wine growing and wine making rules than those prescribed for Côtes du Rhône. At least 50 per cent of the grapes in ‘Villages’ wines must be Grenache.
From the esteemed French producer Louis Bernard, ‘Louis’ Côtes du Rhône Villages Cuvée (31375) $21.99 marries 80 per cent Grenache with 20 per cent oak-aged Syrah. The result is a smooth and earthy wine overflowing with peppery spices and luscious ripe, red fruit – blackcurrant and black pepper predominate, with a hint of fresh dug earth.
Based on the extraordinary qualities of its red wines Gigondas was classified as a Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC in 1966 and achieved its own AOC status 5 years later in 1971. With wines less expensive than nearby Châteauneuf du Pape, Gigondas produces some of the finest, most underrated and under-priced wines in the Rhône valley.
Through five generations, the principals of Domaine Santa Duc have risen to prominence as pioneers of organic viticulture in Gigondas. Working only with indigenous yeasts and bottling without filtration, Yves Gras produces exceptionally pure, full-bodied and elegant wines.
With 75 per cent Grenache, 15 per cent Syrah, 5 per cent Mourvèdre and 5 per cent Cinsault harvested from 8 different sites in Gigondas, the 2011 Domaine Santa Duc ‘Aux Lieux-Dits’ (513929) $49.99 boasts aromas and flavours of blackberry, mulberry, rosemary, dark chocolate and liquorice.
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