Battle of the Côtes-du-Rhônes
Côtes du Rhônes have always been a go to wine for me. The problem for the average consumer is the wines can vary greatly in style. On one hand they can be easy drinking, fruity and relatively straightforward. While on the other hand more structured, brooding and complex and anywhere in between. Knowing what's in a bottle requires some trial and error. A good retailer that knows your palate can help steer you in the right direction.
Côtes du Rhônes (CDR) come from Southeastern France, in the southern part of the Rhône Valley. The wines are not labeled by varietal, so you won't see Cabernet, Merlot or Chardonnay on the labels. So how do you know what type of grapes are in the bottle? A lot of the larger cooperatives and brands will show the grape percentages on their back labels, but most of the smaller more quality minded vignerons (winemakers) may not provide that information. The dominant grape in the area is Grenache, Syrah a distant second, followed by Mouvèdre , Carignane and Cinsault. There are a host of other grapes that are also allowed in the blend for red wines, twenty-seven in all. Generally the red wines are predominatelyGrenache with Syrah and Mouvèdre completing the blend. There is also a small amount of Rose made and an even smaller amount of white CDR made.
What makes Côtes du Rhône wines so likeable? They can at the entry level offer good insight into the character of the wines from the area. If you want to get a preview of what the wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas or Vacqueyras might offer, check out the Côtes du Rhônes of the vintage first. There are more than a few Côtes du Rhône vineyards that are right next door to these more prestigious crus. Here's where CDR excels in value, because many of the vineyards are in the right neighborhoods. Most good quality CDR can be had in the $12 to $20 range.
If you aren't familiar with CDR wines now's the time to jump on board. Recently in the wine world, especially for the more pricey brands, there'sa lot of hype regarding the new vintage coming on offer. Though I've only tasted 8 or 9 of the 2015 Côtes du Rhônes that are now hitting the retailer's shelves, I'm ready to concede, the hype is legit! These are the best wines I've tasted from the CDR appellation since 2010. And there's more good news. Word is that the 2016's are on par and perhaps even better. In fact generally speaking after several years of anxiety producing growing seasons for wine growers throughout Europe, the wines from 2015 are showing remarkable quality and consistency.
Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône-Villages (a step up in classification from grapes grown at better sites with lower yields) are not wines for laying down and cellaring for years. Instead they are vinified for early consumption, usually within the two to five year window of their vintage. These are wines that you can pair with a wide variety of foods and because of their price point you can afford to have them grace your table nightly.
For this tasting flight we choose four wines from the 2015 vintage. The wines are from the areas of Cairanne, Séguret , Vinsobres, and Estézargues.
2015 Comte Louis De Clermont-Tonnerre Cairanne Côtes-Du-Rhône Villlages Vieilles Vignes
I know, what a long name. Alain Corcia started in 1983 as a negociant in Burgundy and has extended his gift for locating good wines to the Rhône region. This wine is a direct import that's only available at KL Wines. Wines made in Cairanne were just awarded "Cru" status, so 2016 will be the first vintage to bear the name Cairanne without having to have Côtes du Rhône Village appended to it. The classic label and embossed bottle are fitting because this bottling is all show and go. Harvested from old vines (Vieilles Vignes) it has a medium ruby color, a very floral nose, violets, lavender, red fruit and garrigue. On the palate it's medium bodied with a juicy strawberry and red fruit profile. It finishes with good length. The wine shows well upon opening and evolves wonderfully as it gets exposed to more air. $12.99 - 14% abv -highly recommended
2015 Saint Cosme Côtes- du-Rhône - (pronounced Saint Comb)
Saint Cosme, based in Gigondasis run by the Barruol family and has operations throughout the Rhone region. My first introduction to Saint Cosme's wines was their Little James Basket PressRed, a solera system CDR that could be purchased for about $7 in past years. Back then it offered everything a basic CDR should be, at a great price point. Fast forward to present and the Barruol's are still offering a real true to type, basic CDR, at a fantastic price point. The fruit is harvested around Vinsobres and the wine is 100% Syrah a bit unusual for CDR but not for the Gigondas area. Dark purple colored in the glass the nose shows black and blue fruit, iodine, licorice and sea salt. On the palate black fruits and pepperwith medium tannins and a firm mid palate. The finish is medium length with furry tannins and spice. This wine was number 43 on Wine Spectators annual Top 100 wines of 2016. $13 - $15 14% abv - highly recommended
2015 Malmont Côtes du Rhône
The Malmont (bad mountain) property located in the hills above Séguret, due north of Gigondas, is owned by the Haeni family. The four hectare project was started in 2002 and the vines were planted four years later. Click here to check out the incredible terracing work that was done to establish the vineyard. The winemaker Nicolas Haeni farms the vineyards himself with minimal outside help. The first vintage for Malmont was 2013. Who said winemaking was quick and easy? A labor of love Nicolas's boutique winery is attached to his home. The blend is 55% Grenache and 45% Syrah. Deep purple colored, the first sniff took me back to my childhood as it smelled like a newly opened packet of Kool-Aid. On the second sniff the Kool-Aid is gone. Was it ever really there? And the nose is showing red raspberries, strawberry jam and violets. In the mouth the red fruits continue, backed by a tart, firm acidity. While the nose sings the mid palate is a bit hollow. The tannins are soft and elegant, but thefinish is disappointingly short. The wine is nicely structured but the fruit is hiding. Perhaps it will emerge with some more bottle ageing. $19 - $20 13.5% abv - recommended
2015 Domaine De Pierredon Signargues Côtes du Rhône Villages
Signargues (pronounced see-nargues) is an elevated plain on the right bank of the Rhone River due east of the town of Avignon. The Pierredon family organically farms70 hectares near the town of Estézargues. The wine is born from a strength in numbers philosophy having been made at the Les Vignerons D'Estézargues cooperative. What makes this cooperative unique? They have ten principal growers and for each one they make a separate special cuvee from each growers best grapes, designating the name of their estate on the labels. Moreoverthe wines are made with no yeast additions, no enzymes, no sulfur additions at harvest time and no filtering or fining. That's a considerable difference from the large batch methods of most cooperatives. This CDR is 50% Grenache and 50% Mourvedre. Medium ruby in color the nose displays black cherries and white pepper. It's fresh with juicy black fruit on palate, medium bodied, with minerality andgood depth. Very enjoyable, moderate tannins and a savory finish. $15 - $17 14.5 abv - highly recommended
These four wines were excellent examples of the variety of wine styles one can find from the southern Rhone region. Buy them and enjoy them now. Côtes du Rhônes are good matches for charcuterie, grilled or roasted meats, pastas and stews. With their wallet friendly price points and back to back high quality vintages headed to retailers shelves, you should consider putting some CDR's on your buy list for your next wine buying trip.
Who was the winner? The winner of the battle for me was the Domaine De Pierredon. Even though I enjoyed all the other wine as well (not a dud in this bunch), the Pierredon was to my liking, the most complete and enjoyable of the group.