I keep forgetting how much I love Côtes du Rhônes, maybe because in my early days I never got excited about the region the way you can about Bordeaux or Burgundy with their famous grand Crus and Cru Classe Châteaus. Maybe my reference point is still stuck on those initial impressions of thin, vapid table wines, when the reality, particularly in today’s offerings, are nothing of the sort. They can be deep, rich, beautiful, age worthy wines; Sablet, Seguret, Gigondas, Vaqueyras, Condrieu – there isn’t one of these villages that hasn’t produced a superlative wine that I will never forget.
Even if there are lovely Côtes du Rhône Villages, they still don’t sing in our minds and that may be because they aren’t made from sexy or exciting grape varieties like the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay of Burgundy, or the Cabernet and Merlot of Bordeaux. The most notable grape varieties of a long feckless list allowed by AOC regulations in Côtes du Rhône wines are Syrah, Viognier and Marsanne. Two of those are white, and Syrah can only play a supporting role as Grenache must be the principal grape in the blend of a ‘Village’ wine, so these aren’t exactly the greatest components for you – or the winemaker to get excited about!
The Winemakers’ frustration with the AOC regulations was revealed to me a few years ago by a winemaker when he gave me a ‘Côtes du Rhône Villages’ (with a named village) that was 100% Cinsault from a small vineyard his grandfather planted …shh don’t tell anyone! By the way it was delicious – and exciting.
This Côtes du Rhône from a terroir driven maverick co-operative has also managed to slip the confines of the AOC by blending 90% Syrah with just 10% Grenache. When I taste a good Côtes du Rhône I always wonder where my head has been, why is it so easily turned away to the bright lights of the glamorous and upcoming regions around the world, and this was one of those wines to bring me back and remind me that here there is real underrated quality…
A deep, rich velvety colour, with a little youthful purple – although not much considering it’s a 2012. Initial senses of bovril that dissipate to some surprising light violets, deep and satisfying, spicy and youthful, cherry jam with a little bitterness on the finish which mellows out after time in the glass, and is not surprising given its youth and its quality, that was designed to be best appreciated after a few years in the bottle.
This is a good example of what you think Côtes du Rhône is not.