In a country known for world-class wine regions, France’s Côtes du Rhône AOC holds its own against big dogs like Bordeaux and Burgundy. The French region long known for its blending mastery has perfected the ability to meld different grape varieties into some of the best red, white, and rosé wines on the market today.
The Rhône Valley has been a hub of wine culture since the Greeks first brought viticulture to this area of southeastern France in the 4th century B.C. The backbone of the valley is the geologically diverse Côtes du Rhône that runs from Vienne to Avignon. Sun-drenched vineyards on either side of the Rhône River are split into two regions — north and south. The Northern Rhône is the epicenter for French Syrah while the Southern Rhône is one of the premier regions in the world for blending grapes.
Reds dominate the valley. In fact, 86 percent of the area’s total production is red wine. Of the 23 varieties used to make Côtes du Rhône AOC wines, three define the region: Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. The blending of these three produces the well-structured, iconic “GSM” red blend that is at the very heart of Côtes du Rhône.
Grenache and Mourvèdre are both originally from Spain and were thought to have been brought by pilgrims returning from Santiago de Compostela. Both varietals cope well with the summer heat and drought, accounting for most of the vineyard plantings in the southern part of the Côtes du Rhône. Grenache adds notes of candied fruit, raspberry, and cinnamon spice while Mourvèdre adds tannin structure and floral aromas.
The Northern Côtes du Rhône is the birthplace of the iconic Syrah grape. The grape adds powerful flavors of blackberry, violet, blueberry, pepper, and plum to the Côtes du Rhône blend. Syrah also contributes to the full-bodied yet balanced savory element that wines from this region are known for. GSM wines pair best with moderate to heavy dishes such as grilled red meats, roasted chicken, or creamy mushroom pasta.
Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Cinsault grapes comprise the bulk of AOC Côtes du Rhône rosés. The medium-bodied wines with a luscious bright-red fruit palate are typically a deeper hue than rosés from neighboring Provence. Côtes du Rhône rosé wines are known to be fresh and fruity while still being supple and balanced. These rosés are the perfect companion to oysters, light flaky white fish, and arugula salad.
While Côtes du Rhône is synonymous with red wine, a small but mighty group of whites pull their own weight. Like the reds, white wines are typically blended to create unique expressions. Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Clairette, and/or Roussanne are components of any great bottle of Côtes du Rhône white.
The whites from the AOC Côtes du Rhône are relatively medium-bodied with rich aromas, bright acidity, and crisp texture alongside peach, lemon, and honey notes. The crisp acidity makes them a viable partner for a wide variety of dishes. They make for a perfect picnic wine and pair beautifully with lighter fare like herb-crusted fish, grilled vegetables, and berry tarts.
The entire AOC works together to be the best stewards of the land in order to make sure this world-class winemaking tradition continues for generations to come. Protecting biodiversity, preserving resources, adopting more sustainable practices, and respecting local terroir are all at the top of the list to help achieve the AOC’s ambitious goals for eco-friendly viticulture.
Here’s a handy breakdown of AOC Côtes du Rhône’s red, white, and rosé wine styles:
This infographic is sponsored by Côtes du Rhône.