The Côtes du Rhône is a grape-growing and winemaking designation within the Rhône Valley, in France. It is a broad designation, known as an Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC). AOCs have specific requirements when it comes to grape growing, grapes allowed, winemaking, and aging requirements, in order to have the AOC name on the label. Within the Côtes du Rhône AOC, there are nested AOCs, like Côtes-du-Rhône Villages AOC, and named village AOCs that cover smaller geographical areas, along with their own specific requirements.
The Côtes du Rhône AOC covers about a 125-mile region, including both the Northern and Southern Rhônes. About 50 percent of the Rhône Valley’s wine production is labeled with the Côtes du Rhône AOC designation. Requirements for this AOC state that the wines produced must be a minimum of 11 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), and must be made from only the 21 sanctioned grape varieties. Within the AOC, 89 percent of the wines produced are red, seven percent are rosé, and the remaining four percent are white wines.
The dominant red grapes in Côtes du Rhône AOC are Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, and Carignon. For white wines, Grenache Blanc is the most important, followed by Clairette, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier. For red or rosé wines to bear Côtes du Rhône AOC on the label, there must be at least 40 percent Grenache in the blend. For white wines, at least 80 percent of the blend must come from Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Roussanne, Marsanne, Bourboulenc, and Viognier.
For the October 3rd 2020 tasting at City Vino, we explore a few wines from the Côtes du Rhône AOC, and a couple of variations on this theme. Our first wine will be 2018 Maison Orcia Viognier Pays d'Oc IGP, which is 100 percent Viognier, which isn’t labeled as a Côtes du Rhône, but instead, is labelled as an even broader category of Pays d’Oc IGP, indicative of the use of grapes from a bit farther south than our theme region. This wine has aromas of peaches, apricots, and white flowers, and white peach and fresh pair on the palate. It would pair beautifully with sushi, halibut, or sea bass, or as an aperitif along side goat cheese and crackers.
Our second wine, 2017 Domaine Des Pasquiers Sablet Côtes du Rhône, is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. The wine has aromas and flavors of blackberry, earth, baking spices, and a hint of licorice. The tannins are well-rounded, not harsh, and the wine has a long finish. This wine would pair well with grilled meats or roasted lamb with rosemary.
The third featured wine is 2019 Maison Orcia Côtes du Rhône. This wine, from the same producer of the Viognier, is from within the Côtes du Rhône. It is a blend of 60 percent Syrah, and 40 percent Grenache, so it meets that 40 percent Grenache minimum necessary to have this AOC on the label. The wine has aromas and flavors of black berries and plumbs, along with mushroom notes and firm tannins. It would pair beautifully with meats with a rich sauce or chicken in a mushroom creamy sauce, both of which would balance the tannins.
Our final wine of the week is from Virginia’s Horton Vineyards. The wine is the 2015 Horton Vineyards Côtes d'Orange, and is their own play on our featured region. The wine includes 55 percent Syrah, and 16 percent Mourvèdre, as you might expect in a Côtes du Rhône; however, Horton blended those Rhône varieties with 29 percent Pinotage. Pinotage was created in South Africa, and is a crossing of Pinot Noir and Cinsault (another Rhône variety). This wine has meaty aromas and flavors along with red and black cherries. The wine is medium-bodied, with some baking spices, and a hint of smoke on the finish. Pair this wine with duck, lamb, and Indian dishes, plus either hard or soft cheese