Côtes du Rhône wines are made along the banks of the Rhône river in southeastern France. Wines in this category include reds, whites and rosés.
Côtes du Rhône wines, which translates as “slopes” or “hills of the Rhône” in English, have benefited from a protected designation of origin status since 1937, and have been produced in the area for hundreds of years. In fact, the area is one of the oldest wine-producing regions of the world, dating back to pre-Roman times. The Côtes du Rhône wines also formed part of the very early basis of France’s national protected designation of origin system. In 1737, King Louis XV ordered that wine coming from the region should be labelled “CDR” (as Côtes du Rhône) in order to introduce such a system. The wine-producing area on the right bank of the river had developed a strict system of regulations to govern its production and protect its reputation. The left bank was later added to the decree.
In total, there are 21 different types of grape varieties that can be used in making Côtes du Rhône wines. In red wines, Grenache, the primary grape variety, brings fruitiness, warmth and body to the taste of wines, while Syrah and Mourvèdre grapes give the wines a slightly spicy flavor and help support its color over time. For rosés, Cinsault grape varieties are used, and add fruitiness. The white wines are given a refreshing flavor by grape varieties like Bourboulenc, Grenache blanc and others. 89% of the wines produced under this protected denomination of origin are red wines, about 4% are white and 7% are rosé.
Côtes du Rhône wines are strictly regulated by their protected denomination of origin status. In red wines, Grenache must represent at least 40% of the grapes used. For white wines, 80% of the grapes must come from one of the following varieties: Clairette, Marsanne, Roussanne, Bourboulenc or Viognier.
The production area extends across approximately 110,000 acres along the Rhône River and benefits from a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and rainier springs and autumns. Winters are relatively mild. These climactic conditions along with the stony and rocky soils offer a regular supply of water to the roots and the stones in the soil help to maintain the level of heat during the night. Other sandier soils in the area offer a more variable supply of water, and are better used for the production of white wines and lighter reds.
The red wines are traditionally served alongside red meats or game; the white wines with seafood, goat cheese or desserts; and the rosés alongside fish, poultry, or vegetables. If you’re interested in trying a Côtes du Rhône wine, the harvests from 2005, 2006 and 2009 have been recognized as being of particularly high quality.