Committed to Quality

Côtes du Rhône regional: A reputation for quality

The Côtes du Rhône regional appellation currently comprises 171 communes. Wines are available in red, white and rosé.

These are largely blended wines, and unusually, even white grapes may be used in red blends. The main varietals are Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah for reds, and Bourboulenc, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier for whites. Secondary varietals include Carignan, Cinsault, Clairette, Grenaches Blanc and Gris and Ugni Blanc.

Yields are limited to 51 hl per hectare to promote the production of high-quality wines.

This appellation alone succeeds in showcasing the panoply of different Côtes du Rhône terroirs, and makes up the base of the ‘quality pyramid.’ It can be used as a springboard for wines wanting to rise through the ranks, moving first to Côtes du Rhône Villages, then Cru status.

 

Côtes du Rhône Villages: Terroir-driven wines

AOCs are not set in stone; in fact, regulations encourage the winegrowers to continue striving for excellence. Wines from the Côtes du Rhône Villages and Côtes du Rhône Villages with geographical name were originally Côtes du Rhône regional appellation wines, and show how the pyramid hierarchy encourages winegrowers to keep moving forward, producing increasingly terroir-expressive wines.

In 1967, a number of the villages were authorised to sell their wines under the second level of classification, Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC. Currently 95 villages are permitted to do this, with a further 21 authorised to add their village name to the label – another step up the hierarchy – highlighting a distinctive local dimension to their wines. These include the villages of Sablet, Séguret, Vaison-la-Romaine, Visan, etc.

Grapes for Côtes du Rhône Villages (with or without village name) grow in the southern part of the Côtes du Rhône area. The same varietals are authorised for both categories (Grenache is mandatory), but the exact proportions are left to the winemakers’ discretion, based on the nuances of their terroirs and the style of wine. Each Côtes du Rhône village has a different style.

Again, some appellations choose to use this category as a springboard to go further still in honing quality and pursuing perfection.

Côtes du Rhône Crus: the epitome of excellence

Seventeen Côtes du Rhône Cru appellations lie alongside the river Rhône – 8 in the north  (Château-Grillet, Condrieu, Cornas, Côte-Rôtie, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, Saint-Joseph and Saint-Péray) and nine in the south (Beaumes-de-Venise, Cairanne, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Lirac, Rasteau, Tavel, Vacqueyras and Vinsobres). Becoming a Cru is the ultimate accolade for a Côtes du Rhône appellation wine – the culmination of a long process to gain accreditation and win international recognition.

Of these 17 Crus, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Tavel stand out for their sheer longevity. They were the first to be awarded Cru status, even before INAO was founded; Châteauneuf- du Pape was recognised as an appellation in 1936, and was, in fact, one of the first in France. The production criteria stipulated at the time have influenced the drafting of AOC specifications ever since.

Tavel created its own Syndicat de Défense (a body tasked with defining production criteria) as early as 1902. Specifications are different for each Cru: in 1947 Lirac was the first to permit production of wines across all 3 colours, and Saint-Péray achieved Cru status for its sparkling wines in 1936 before venturing into still wine production.

Finally, there are the Crus which have progressed through the hierarchy in stages, starting out as Côtes du Rhône regional wines, moving on to become Côtes du Rhône Villages and the finally becoming Crus. Gigondas is one such example. At each stage, production conditions are more rigorous, specifications stricter and quality is higher.

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