For easy drinking pleasure coupled with consistent quality and terrific value, it’s hard to beat France’s Côtes-du-Rhône red wine producing region. Delving into wines from recent vintages offers a fun way to uncork pleasant surprises while also trying the latest offerings from reliable favorite producers.
The Côtes-du-Rhône (pronounced coat-dew-rown) vineyards begin just south of Lyon near Vienne, a charming former Roman imperial city straddling the Rhône River.
The region continues south along the river for over 125 miles to the old papal seat at Avignon. It encompasses over 170 villages and nearly 175,000 acres with vineyards occupying hillsides either overlooking the river or unfurling on nearby rolling hills.
Over 5,000 proprietors cultivate primarily the grenache, syrah, mourvèdre grapes that produce the classic Côtes-du-Rhône reds. The situation creates a tantalizing array of choices to please every true wine imbiber.
Don’t miss the boat by trying the following:
• Year in and out, the firm of E. Guigal in the northern village of Ampuis sets the pace for consistent quality and value, an amazing feat considering they produce 4 million bottles annually. For the 2015 E. Guigal Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge, France (8132; $15.99) the Guigal family offers a classic red blend, with a predominant percentage of syrah adding structure and extra freshness. Slow fermentation in temperature-controlled tanks punches up freshness. Aging in large, neutral foudre casks allows the wine to mellow and round into easy drinking before bottling. Sweet black cherry fruit melds with black pepper and smoked meaty notes. Fresh acidity and firm tannins frame a refreshing finish. Pair it with skirt steak marinated with red wine and shallots. Highly recommended.
• The 2016 Yves Cheron Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge “Les Dentelles,” France (Luxury 77229; $14.99) comes from Yves Cheron, a Burgundy native. He graduated from the well-known Lycée Viticole in Beaune before taking charge of family vineyards in the southern Rhône. For this wine, Cheron uses a blend of grenache and syrah grapes grown on rocky soils at the base of imposing, jagged limestone cliffs called “Les Dentelles.” Ripe dark fruit and wild herbal notes, a trademark of classic southern Côtes-du-Rhône reds, balance with fine tannins and freshness for a delicious glass of wine. Pair it with rib-eye steak with a mustard and black pepper cream sauce. Highly recommended.
• The 2016 Bieler Père et Fils Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Rouge “La Jassine,” France (Luxury 77874; $14.99) comes from a family with a reputation for producing provençale pink rosé wines. But in this case, the Bieler clan made a partnership with the Lavau family which has grenache and syrah vines in Valréas, a village ideally situated for red wine production. The village’s slightly cooler temperatures allow the grapes to retain freshness while ripening fully. Fermentation of the fruit in concrete vats with native yeast retains fruity purity as reflected in the wine’s sweet cherry and ripe plum flavors. Subtle spicy notes balance with lavender and thyme aromas for lovely perfumes. Good acidity and firm tannins add elegant balance. Pair it with pasta tossed with olive oil, crispy beef pieces and chopped tomatoes. Recommended.
• The 2017 Domaine Gramenon “Poignée de Raisins” Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge, France (Luxury 77802; $27.99) comes from mother and son winegrowers, Michèle and Maxime Laurent. The duo foregoes applying synthetic chemical to the vines and instead embraces organic and biodynamic practices. Cultivation occurs only with naturally produced composts and “tea” sprays. The idea is to produce pure, more flavorful fruit from naturally vital, disease hearty vines growing in living soils. In the cellar, fermentation occurs only with natural yeasts, and the wine finishes with neither fining nor filtering. Bottling takes places with only minimal additions of sulfur. Again the goal is to capture and preserve pure fruit as a reflection of the terroir that produced it. This wine comes from 100 percent grenache grapes grown in clay and limestone soils mixed with gravel, sand and large, smooth rocks known as “galets roulés.” The wine’s dark ruby color offers enticing plum, raspberry and black cherry aromas laced with subtle lavender and rosemary garrigue notes. In the mouth, concentrated pure, juicy fruit flavors balance with refreshing acidity. Elegant tannins deliver just the right touch of structure. Enjoy this beautifully proportioned wine with grilled meats. Highly recommended.