Cotes du Rhone is a regional appellation for red, rose and white wines covering the length and breadth of the Rhone Valley in eastern France. It includes more than 170 parishes, following the course of the Rhone river for 125 miles (200km) from Saint-Cyr-sur-le-Rhone in the north to Avignon in the south. Although Vienne is often viewed as the northernmost wine commune (village) of the Rhone, it lies on the eastern bank of the river, just inside the Isere department not covered by the Cotes du Rhone.
(© Christophe Grilhé)
The Cotes du Rhone appellation was introduced in November 1937, to provide a catch-all title for Rhone wines of reasonable quality, but which come from less well-known viticultural areas. The Cotes de Rhone Villages appellation is a step up from this, being granted to those communes that show particular viticultural qualities.
Although it does not hold the prestige of the Rhone's more famous names (such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Cote Rotie and Hermitage), the Cotes du Rhone title includes some very fine wines indeed. Often this is down to a particularly dedicated winemaker whose vineyard happens to fall just outside the boundaries of the famous appellations. Since the 1960s, the catchment areas of several Rhone appellations have been considerably expanded in response to ever-increasing vine plantings – Saint-Joseph is a good example. There will always be small areas of prime vineyard that are not covered, however, which is where the Cotes du Rhone and Cotes du Rhone Villages titles come into play.
The principal red grapes permitted for use in Cotes du Rhone wines are Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Grenache must make up a minimum of 40% of any red blend except for those produced north of the town of Montelimar. Montelimar marks the divide between the southern Rhone, where Grenache ripens very well, and the slightly cooler northern Rhone, to which it is not so suited. There are ten other varieties sanctioned for use in the appellation's red and rose wines, but they must not represent more than 30% of any wine blend. These are Carignan, Cinsaut, Counoise, Muscardin, Camarese, Vaccarese, Picpoul Noir, Terret Noir, Grenache Gris and Clairette.
The principal grapes used in Cotes du Rhone white wines are Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Marsanne, Roussanne, Bourboulenc and Viognier. Ugni Blanc and Picpoul Blanc may also be used to a maximum of 20% of any blend.
Supplementary information about Rhone Valley wines can be obtained from the region's trade body, Inter Rhone.