So although the terroirs are different, they fit together to make one picture. A bit like a jigsaw?
Yes, that’s a good analogy. We like to say that Côtes du Rhône wines are made across a swirling mosaic of different terroirs. They reflect the varying landscapes, geological make up and climate of the region as well as its grapes, vineyard management practices and favourite winemaking techniques, but there’s still a sense of unity, a ‘Côtes du Rhôneness’ about them.
Is it all quite random, or is there a pattern?
There’s a clear pattern, on several levels. We can start by dividing the appellation into 2 zones, north and south.
And the differences are…
In the northern part, the vineyards hug the riverbanks, and the climate is continental (hot summers and cold winters). The vines grow on steep slopes carved from the rocks of the Massif Central mountains.
The southern zone is mellower, more Mediterranean in character. And we can further subdivide this into 3 distinct terroir types:
- Limestone soils; vines in this type of soil are relatively unusual in the southern Côtes du Rhône. They’re seen primarily in the Dentelles de Montmirail, for example, cheek by jowl with the craggy, soaring mountains. Limestone terroirs give wines elegance and precision, and are great for whites.
- Sandy soils are a feature of the stone-covered hillsides, and are planted with Grenache and Syrah to give light, fruity wines.
- Free-draining terraces of smooth, rounded pudding-stones where Grenache is blended with Syrah and Mourvèdre give smooth, velvety wines with plenty of ripe fruit and a touch of spice. White wines are rich and elegant.
How do we know which wine comes from which terroir?
The Côtes du Rhône wines hierarchy – a pyramid with the Côtes du Rhône regional appellation at its base and Côtes du Rhône Villages (with or without village name) on the level above – makes detailed distinctions between specific types of terroir, and helps you make your choice.