Costieres de Nimes is the most southerly appellation of the Rhone wine region in south-eastern France. The wines of the area are reputed to have been consumed by the Ancient Greeks and thus figure among the oldest known wines in the world.
The appellation AOC Costieres de Nimes was granted in 1989; prior to that, the wines were produced at the lower VDQS level under the Costieres du Gard title. Until 2004, the appellation was officially part of the Languedoc wine region, but is now administered by the Rhone regional wine board in Avignon.
(© Christophe Grilhé)
While the terroirs of most Rhone wine appellations are characterized by outcrops of granite (Hermitage) or limestone (Beaumes-de-Venise) and variations in altitude, the landscapes between Nimes and the Mediterranean Sea are relatively flat and low-lying. As a result, the soils of Costieres de Nimes do not vary as much as those in other Rhone appellations, and are characterized by large pebbles on shallow, south- and south-east-facing slopes. Areas of 'garrigue' (the quintessential southern French landscape of dry, low-lying scrubland on limestone soils) are present in the eastern corners of the appellation, providing excellent potential for viticulture. When not planted with vines, this land is generally populated with rosemary, lavender and thyme, as its relatively loose, free-draining soils are poor in nutrients. These conditions are the same as those determined in the 1920s by Baron LeRoy of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, whose viticultural and oenological rules were the precursor to the modern appellation system. Free-draining soils of low fertility force vines to dig deep, strong root systems in search of water and nutriment, and are widely considered to produce more-complex wines.
Carignan, the rustic red variety that is outlawed in other southern Rhone appellations such as Gigondas, is the predominant grape used in Costieres de Nimes wines, forming a legally stipulated 40% of every red or rosé wine blend. Before 1995, this figure was 50%, but the success of southern Rhone wines made from Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre forced the balance slightly in favor of these more-profitable varieties; they are now required to make up 20% each of red or rosé Costieres de Nimes wines. The region's most respected wines are made from increasing percentages of these varieties.
Only a very small quantity of white wine is produced under the Costieres de Nimes appellation. It is made from any combination of Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Vermentino, Macabeu and Marsanne. Viognier may also figure in the blend (up to a maximum of 10%). While Ugni Blanc was previously permitted, it was excluded as of the 2010 vintage.