Côtes-du-Rhône

Rhône-Alpes

Côtes-du-Rhône This is the region of France's most user-friendly wines, and, with Bordeaux, an important source of appellation contrôlée wine. Côtes du Rhône is south-east France's warmer, richer, spicier answer to the dry austerity of AC Bordeaux. The wines of the southern Rhône are France's most alcoholic, with 14-15% by no means uncommon for its most famous appellation, Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Perhaps it is the alcohol that makes these southern Rhône reds so easy to appreciate. Perhaps it is the openly fruity character of the Grenache grape, which dominates here, concentrated by the relatively low yields forced upon it by the stony soils and low rainfall. Perhaps it's because the southern Rhône is the gateway to Provence, a land of olive trees, cicadas, sunshine and Impressionist summer landscapes.

The wines made in this seductive countryside are, contrarily, best drunk in much cooler climates. They can seem head-thumpingly inappropriate when drunk in the place and season that produces them.

The southern Rhône is an important hunting ground for the merchants of the northern Rhône, and a significant proportion of the wines made here are shipped north in bulk to be sold with a Tain or Tournon address on the label. Co-operative wineries are also extremely important here.

While Côtes du Rhône can come from a vast area of around 140,000 acres around the southern end of the French Rhône Valley, Côtes du Rhône-Villages comes from a tightly defined area an eighth as big on particularly suitable land north and west of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Some Côtes du Rhône is vinified using the Beaujolais carbonic maceration technique to yield juicy, fruity wines for whom life is short but an increasing proportion is made to last a few years in bottle and can be great value. Among the hundreds of Côtes du Rhône-Villages producers, however, are many with even greater ambitions for their wines, which are made to develop for five and sometimes more years in bottle. With maximum permitted yields a good sixth lower than those allowed for Côtes du Rhône, Côtes du Rhône-Villages is one of France's best-value appellations, perhaps because promotion prospects are so obvious.

Since the appellation was formed in 1966, five of the nearly 20 villages have been granted their own appellations – Beaumes-de-Venise, Gigondas, Rasteau, Vacqueyras and Vinsobres – and the other village names encountered on labels and also marked on the map produce some seriously fine, often underpriced wines.

- Jancis Robinson