What is Côtes du Rhône?
It’s an easily guzzled French favourite, but what exactly is a wine labelled Côtes du Rhône?
‘Côte’ means hillside or slope, so Côtes du Rhône refers to the wines produced from the hillsides and slopes along the Rhone River in France. As we know, French wines are labelled by place not variety, and Côtes du Rhône is the broadest, regional label in the Rhone Valley.
If you’ve tried Côtes du Rhône, there’s a good chance it was a red wine, but it can be a white or rosé too. Enjoyed for their character and value for money, these wines are also an approachable, friendly introduction to the many other great wines made in the Rhone Valley.
The river itself forms in Switzerland but winegrowing officially starts at Vienne near Lyon. It follows the river from north to south down to Avignon. Côtes du Rhône wines can be made anywhere along here.
We divide winegrowing in the Rhone into two parts, northern and southern. The northern Rhone is a narrow, steep section along the river that’s best known for single varietal Syrah and Viognier. The famous vineyards of Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage, Condrieu and Cornas are here. Only a small amount of Côtes du Rhône is made here.
In the south the Rhone valley fans out, providing sun drenched plains as well as slopes, and this is where 90% of Côtes du Rhône comes from. Wines like Chateauneuf-du-Pape are produced here too, celebrated as one of the great Grenache predominant wines.
Côtes du Rhône wines are a blend of varieties, the proportions of which will vary depending on producer and what part of the valley they’re grown in.
Red wines are made from at least 40% Grenache, with at least 15% Syrah and/or Mourvedre. These three varieties are great blending partners, and you might recognise them labelled as GSM when grown in countries like Australia. The other red varieties in Côtes du Rhône are more obscure, including Carignan, Cinsault and Counoise.
These same red varieties are used to make Côtes du Rhône Rosé, as well as Côtes de Provence Rosé from further south.
The white wines are also blends made from Clairette, Grenache blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, and Viognier. As a generalisation, the wines don’t have the fresh line of acidity that Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay or Riesling has. They’re still refreshing though, and range from being juicy, fruit forward styles, to more rich, textural and savoury styles.
There are Côtes du Rhône Villages wines as well. These are made from specific villages that may or may not be mentioned on the label. They are produced with lower yields, and are generally better quality.
The Rhone Valley itself is naturally beautiful, steeped in history and well worth a visit if you have the chance. For us, Côtes du Rhône wines conjure up the romance of rural France, and are so well suited to being shared with food and friends around the dinner table. For a great value introduction try these three organic standouts -Red - Domaine Fond Croze Confidence Côtes du Rhône 2020