Photo by Tom Arena
Bold in fruit and spiced with Mediterranean garrigue, the sun-drenched wines of the Côtes du Rhône are the crowd-pleasing little black dress of the wine world.
While most associated with the big, juicy reds of the Southern Rhône, the Côtes du Rhône is an umbrella Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), incorporating diverse geography and wine styles. Spanning more than 74,000 acres from Vienne in the Northern Rhône and past Avignon in the Southern Rhône, it is one of the largest appellations in France.
Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre are the most common grapes, but regulations allow the blending of up to 23 red and white varieties. In the South, reds are typically Grenache-based blends augmented with Syrah and Mourvèdre. North of Montélimar, regulations permit Syrah-based and even varietal Syrah bottlings.
Wines labeled simply Côtes du Rhône represent the baseline. Moving up the hierarchy, Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC highlights the distinction of terroir and stringent growing practices of 95 villages throughout the Southern Rhône. Within the Côtes du Rhône Villages, 22 elite subregions are authorized to add their village name (like Valréas) or combined village names (like Plan de Dieu) to their labels.