Côtes du Rhône: Four wines from a splendidly reliable region
Cheapest of the area’s wines a better bet than inexpensive types from elsewhere in France
Basic Côtes du Rhône should be a warming hug of a wine, satisfying, without any pretension or sophistication, but very welcome on a cold, wet autumn evening.
It is a wine to enjoy alongside daubes, robust stews and game dishes. The southern Rhône is a vast area responsible for huge quantities of wine. There are more than 5,000 producers in the region, including a number of large co-operatives and négociants who between them sell about 350 million bottles of wine each year.
In such a large region, you will find all levels of quality, but I find the cheapest Côtes du Rhône wines are generally a better bet than inexpensive wines from any other part of France. Most contain a generous proportion of Grenache (legally the minimum is 50 per cent), so the wines are soft and rounded with plenty of alcohol. The remainder will typically be made up of a mix of Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan or Cinsault, although growers have 21 different grape varieties to choose from for red and white wines.
Some of the larger companies now harvest earlier to make a lighter, fresher style of Côtes du Rhône, but I find this often robs the wines of their true regional character.
An absence of awfulness is a good start in any wine, but most of the really cheap supermarket versions of Côtes du Rhône rarely get anyone excited. The Dunnes Stores version I feature here was the best I came across. For a little more (€14.95), O’Briens has the rich, warming Ferraton Côtes du Rhône.
Some supermarkets offer a Côtes du Rhône Villages, theoretically the next step up, at well under €10. But delve a little deeper and you will discover a host of small domaines, often farmed organically, that produce very high quality wines with real character, all under the name Côtes du Rhône. This includes some of the big names from more prestigious appellations within the Rhône, such as Gigondas or Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Basic Côtes du Rhône accounts for almost 70 per cent of wine produced in the region, the remainder being Côtes du Rhône Villages and the 16 cru villages such as the aforementioned Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
For this article I tasted several dozen wines all labelled Côtes du Rhône. They included some great wines that are well worth seeking out, although you will have to pay €15 or more. It also proved my absence of awfulness theory; even the worst examples were still drinkable.
Don’t forget about the white wines from this region too, there are some enchanting, sophisticated wines. As part of the tasting, I also tried two very good Côtes du Rhône Villages, the La Petite Bellane (€18, cabotandco.com and Grapevine, Dalkey) and the brooding rich, powerful Les Cassagnes de la Nerthe (€23, celticwhiskeyshop.com).
Côtes du Rhône 2019, Le Dôme du Grand Bois, Ortas, 14%, €9.35
Appealing, gluggable, juicy ripe dark fruits with a sprinkle of spice. Medium bodied and supple, this would go nicely with roast Mediterranean vegetables or grilled red meats. From: Dunnes Stores, dunnesstores.com
Côtes du Rhône 2018 Lou Paris Domaine Didier Charavin, 14%, €17.95
Seductive sleek warming dark fruits with liquorice and herbs. Try it with sausages and mash or a lightly spicy goulash. From: Wines Direct, Mullingar, and Arnott’s, Dublin 1.
Côtes du Rhône Nature 2018 Famille Perrin (organic) 14%, €21.99
Full-bodied with beautiful big meaty herby dark fruits and plenty of backbone. Drink with grilled red meats or an autumnal venison stew. From: Donnybrook Fair, donnybrookfair.ie; Red Nose Wines, Clonmel, rednosewine.com; wineonline.ie; The Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; The Cinnamon Cottage, Cork, cinnamoncottage.ie; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth.
Côtes du Rhône 2019 Poignée de Raisins Domaine Gramenon (Biodynamic) 14%, €26.50
A delicious wine with layers of perfectly ripe fleshy red fruits, perked up by a fine acidity. Medium to full bodied, rounded and brimming with flavour. Serve with a really good burger or a lamb braise.
From: siyps.com; 64wine, Glasthule; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Dublin 2, Kells, Co Meath, Galway, sheridanscheesemongers.com; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie.