Côtes du Rhône wines: The Sun-drenched Vineyards

The Côtes du Rhône wines region doesn't have the fanciest wines in France, but that doesn't mean that they are not very popular. Get to know the best wines in the area and how to select a bottle.
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Map of Cotes du Rhone Wine Region in France
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Côtes du Rhône wines are not the fanciest French wine on the block, but they do get around. A lovely glass of wine, while lounging around in the sunny south of France, what could be better!?

On either side of the Rhône river in the south of France, the Côtes du Rhône wines region stretches from Vienne in the north to Châteauneuf du Pape and Avignon in the south.

Pronounced kots-du-rhone, the vineyards around the Rhône river have existed since Roman times, using age-old techniques that have existed since then. The area uses a majority of Grenache rouge and Syrah grapes for red wines and Grenache blanc and Viognier grapes in white wines and rosés.

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Classification: How to pick a bottle

As with the other French wine regions, a good bottle of Côtes du Rhône wine will have the following initials:

  • AOC –  Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée
  • AOP –  Appellation d’Origine Protégée

Note: the Côtes du Rhone AOC wines don’t include the Provence wines (usually rosés) that are produced around the Aix-en-Provence area, which is more south. That area of Provence has its own regulatory body and appellations.

The appellations used in this area are Côtes du RhôneCôtes du Rhône Village, Côtes du Rhône (Named) Village and Côtes du Rhône Cru in increasing order of importance. There are no Grand Crus or Premier Crus in this region, unlike Bordeaux or Burgundy. You can read more about French wine labelling here.

Frequently asked questions

  1. What is the difference between Northern Rhône wine and Southern Rhône?

    Wine connaisseurs make a distinction between the Northern Rhône, which runs from the town of Vienne to just around Valence. The Southern Rhône runs from the south of Valence to just south of Avignon as they use different blends of grapes.

  2. What grapes are used?

    vine leaves

    Côtes du Rhone wines are usually blends of different grapes, not single grape varieties.
    Northern Rhône wines use Syrah as its main red grape, while Southern Rhône uses a mix of Syrah, Grenache red, Mourvèdre, etc. into red blends.
    White wines and rosés are made using majority Grenache blanc and Viognier grapes, with slight citrus tones.

  3. Are Cotes du Rhone wines high in tannins?

    wine bottle in an expensive box illustration

    The Côtes du Rhône wines range in variety, but in general do have a high quantity of rich but smooth tannins. These wines are medium-bodied compared to Bordeaux wines that are high in tannins. Because of this, and the Côtes du Rhône wines are not usually not aged as long, making them lighter.

  4. What do the wines taste like?

    The main Syrah grape brings a lot of darker flavours such as plum, chocolate, spice, and berries which gives these wines a velvety and fruity quality.
    The white wines have a refreshing acidity with tangy citrus tones. As they are not very sweet, they are light and easy to drink.

  5. Should you chill your bottle?

    freezer

    Yes, the white wines and rosés from this region easily benefit from a few hours in the fridge, and are usually served chilled.
    The red wines as well can be cooled lightly in an ice bucket (avoid the fridge), to be served at slightly below room temperature.

  6. Are the wines expensive?

    Compared to some Burgundy and Bordeaux wines, Côtes du Rhône wines are more reasonably priced. There are no Grand Crus or Premier Crus in this wine region, and so you will not see as wide a price range as with some other haut de gamme wines.

  7. What dishes pair well with Côtes du Rhone wines?

    cutlery

    As part of the Provençale cuisine, Côtes-du-Rhône wines go well with a cuisine that is rich in by garlic, pepper, or tomato flavors, as well as Provence herbs and olive oil. The red wines are rather fruity sweet, with a hint of spice and berries.
    The white wines are traditionally paired with seafood, usually fresh catch from the nearby Mediterranean.

  8. What cheeses pair well with it?

    heart-shaped cheeses

    These wines pair easily will several types of cheeses, especially soft or semi-soft cheeses like the tomme de savoie or camembert. You can read more about French wine and cheese pairings here.

The Best Appellations

1. Côtes du Rhône AOC

Côtes du Rhône AOC is the regular decent bottle of wine that you will get in this region. They are usually reds, but whites and rosés are also available. The wines are medium-bodied with less tannins than other reds and so are easy to drink.

The red wines are rather fruity sweet, with a hint of spice and berries. The white wines are light with floral and citrus tones. It get quite warm in the summer in this part of the world, and a chilled white is the perfect way to cool down.

Buy Côtes du Rhône wines here.

2. Côtes du Rhône Village

A step above Côtes du Rhone AOC is the Côte du Rhône Village AOC, and above that the AOCS where the Village name is on the bottle.

These Named-Villages include: 

  • Cairanne, 
  • Chusclan (red and rosé only)
  • Gadagne, 
  • Laudun, 
  • Massif d’Uchaux (red only),
  • Plan de Dieu (red only), 
  • Puyméras (red only), 
  • Roaix, 
  • Rochegude, 
  • Rousset-les-Vignes, 
  • Sablet, 
  • Saint Gervais, 
  • Saint Maurice, 
  • Saint-Pantaléon-les-Vignes, 
  • Séguret,
  • Signargues (red only), 
  • Valréas, 
  • Visan.

Village producers are required to adhere to stricter standards than those prescribed for Côtes du Rhône AOC, with specific percentages of each type of grape to be used. The taste is much more complex and consistent year over year, and these wines age well.

Buy Cote-Rotie wines here.

3. Côtes du Rhône Cru

There are 17 crus in this area, that are allowed to are allowed to be recognized by their village name without requiring the mention of Côtes du Rhône on the label. These are:

  • Beaumes de Venise AOC, 
  • Cairanne AOC,
  • Château-Grillet AOC, 
  • Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC  (discussed below),
  • Condrieu AOC, 
  • Cornas AOC, 
  • Côte-Rôtie AOC, 
  • Crozes-Hermitage AOC, 
  • Gigondas AOC,
  • Hermitage AOC, 
  • Lirac AOC, 
  • Rasteau AOC, 
  • Saint Joseph AOC, 
  • Saint Péray AOC, 
  • Tavel AOC, 
  • Vacqueyras AOC, 
  • Vinsobres AOC.

The standards for these wines are the highest in this wine region.

Buy Gigondas and Cote-Rotie wines here.

wine bag

4. Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC

One of the biggest Crus in the area is Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC. “Pape” means Pope in French, and the name literally translates to “new castle of the pope”. This is because in the 14th century, the Papacy of Rome moved to Avignon in Provence for a period of 70 years. This history has led to Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines being rather well-known in the world.

Along with changing the face of Avignon, they encouraged viticulture in the area, making the wine from this region famous. The wines are usually red (though there are some white wines) and sold in dark bottles with a papal stamp on them. They are usually earthy and tannic, with a hint of spiciness as they age.

There are much fewer white wines in this region, but there are a few. They are usually in variety of aromas including almond, anise, fennel, and peach.

Buy Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines here.

wine glass illustration

5. Luberon AOC

In the southeastern part of the Côtes du Rhone area, is the large Luberon AOC (formerly Côtes de Luberon). The red wines here have notes of blackberries, spices, and truffle, while the white wines have notes of peach, apricot, and lime.

Buy Luberon wines here.

cork and leaf illustration

6. Ventoux AOC

Around Mount Ventoux are the wine producers with the appellation Ventoux AOC ((formerly Côtes de Ventoux). The red wines here have distinct notes of blackberries, spice, and licorice, while the rosés have notes of cherries and raspberries. These lovely wines are also excellent for making vin chaud.

The white wines here on the other hand, have more floral tones, rather than fruity.

Buy Côtes du Rhône wines here.

bottle opener

7. Duché d’Uzès

A charming little city in Provence, with its own duke and castle, the duchy of Uzès deserves a mention here because the town is so picture perfect. And the wines are pretty good too.

The reds are dark and aromatic with tones of fruit and licorice, and the rosés with notes of citrus, white flowers and red berries. If you prefer blanc, the local white wines and light and fresh with aromas of apricot and peach.

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So are you ready to try a Châteauneuf-du-Pape or a Côte du Rhône Village? If you enjoyed that article, you may want to read more about wine and cheese pairings here. As always, remember to drink responsibly!

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Côtes du Rhône wines: The Sun-drenched Vineyards

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