There are so many reason to love the Rhône Valley. Not only is it one of France’s premiere wine regions, it is also rich in European history. In fact, history and wine are so intertwined in the Rhône Valley they cannot be separated. Did you know Roman soldiers, who used the Rhône Valley as their highway through France, were largely responsible for the history of the vineyards in the Rhône Valley? Furthermore, under Charlemagne’s rule in the early 800’s the Catholic church expanded, needing more sacramental wine, thus leading to an increase in viticulture across France, especially the Rhône Valley and Burgundy.
Key Facts regarding Rhône Valley wines:
- 390 million bottles of Rhône Valley AOC wines are sold around the world in 2012-13
- Every 12 seconds a bottle of Rhône Valley AOC wine is enjoyed somewhere in the world
- The US is the number one export market for Rhône Valley AOC wines
- The Rhône Valley is France’s second largest quality wine producing region; with 80% of its production being red wine
- 95% of total production of the Rhône Valley is made in Southern Rhône. These are primarily red wines crafted from Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre (known as GSM).
Major grapes of the Rhône Valley:
Red: Syrah, Grenache, Mouvedre, Carignan, Cinsault and at least 8 minor varietals
White: Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, and at least 4 minor varietals.
Côtes du Rhône simply means “hillside of the Rhône.” It can be made anywhere in Rhône Valley, as long as it meets the appellation standards, but almost all of it is made in the southern region. And although there is white and rose, 80% of Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Villages is red. Côtes du Rhône accounts for about 50% of all Rhône Valley wine production, most are red blends, known as easy drinking everyday wines that pair great with food. It is easy to find wines labeled Côtes du Rhône costing below $20 but tasting like they cost more. Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC are one step up on the wine classification pyramid. They tend to be a bit more complex, produce lower yields, and are good for aging.
“Forming a corridor between the Mediterranean and Northern Europe, the Rhone Valley extends over six French departments. The region draws its strength from this rich and powerful river, which shapes its landscape and molds its character. The wines grown between Vienne and Avignon, between the Massif Central, the Alps and the Mediterranean Sea, draw their strength from the sun and caressing wind, and from the determination of the region’s many wine-growers to produce quality wines while respecting the environment… These wines, crafted and inspired by a great variety of grape varieties and terroirs, give pleasure to wine-lovers in all parts of the world.” ~ Rhone Valley Vineyards web site
If Rhône Valley wines are new to you, here are two Côtes du Rhône wines to kick off your exploration.
2014 Pierre Dupond “La Renjardière” Côtes du Rhône France ($16): Crafted of 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre, and 10% Cinsault; clear, medium ruby; clean, medium- aromas of black and red fresh picked berries, white mushrooms, spice, damp underbrush; medium+ acidy, balanced wine with medium tannins, body, and finish, though not complex it was easy to drink and perfectly enjoyable.
2014 Michel Gassier Côtes du Rhône Villages Visan Cercius Rhone France ($14): Crafted of 85% Grenache and 15% Syrah; clear, medium- ruby; clean medium aromas of raspberries, cherries, cranberries, delicate sweet spice, lavender, black currant leaf, and forest floor; dry, fully balanced with medium acidity, tannins, body, and finish; similarly un-complex yet fully enjoyable.
Since Côtes du Rhône wines are so food friendly I paired these two wines with Spiced Meatball, Butternut, and Tomato Stew. It was an easy and elegant pairing, feeling a bit rustic and Mediterranean. Since both wines offered similar weight and flavor profiles, both paired well with the dish. Truth be told, these two wines would likely pair beautifully with just about food you chose, or just sip and enjoy.
My Song Selection: Lovely wines, easy to drink and enjoy; real crowd pleasers at prices that cannot be beat.
Get your own bottles of Côtes du Rhône wines and let me know what song you pair with them. Cheers!