If someone asked me which part of the world my favourite wines come from, I would almost certainly say Bordeaux. If they asked me where some of the most captivating wines originate, I might say Burgundy. But if someone asked me where they can find the best value for money while also delivering great complexity and flavours, I would say the Rhone.
France’s Rhone region is home to some of the greatest wines in the country, the most famous of which is Chateauneuf-du-Pape. But while the likes of Chateauneuf, Condrieu, Cote Rotie and Hermitage command the highest prices in the region, there are plenty affordable wines to choose from in this corner of southern France.
And this isn’t a straightforward region either. In the northern Rhone there you find Cote Rotie, Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage along with many other appellations like St Joseph and Cornas, while in the south you find Cheateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras and a lesser-known one like Tavel, including many others.
But while all those appellations are wonderful – and are at the higher-end of quality in the region – what I’m talking about here is basic Cotes du Rhone and Cotes du Rhone Villages. These two appellations are the most basic in the hierarchy but can offer enjoyable drinking for very little cost.
Wines from the southern Rhone make up about 90 per cent of the region’s total production and, while Cotes du Rhone and Cotes du Rhone Villages wines (of which 19 communes can be named on the label), makes up the majority of all of the Rhone region’s output.
That’s a lot of wine. But while the quantity is high, this isn’t to say it should be ignored as a wine. If you are after spicy, peppery wines made principally from grenache, but in some cases they can be blends that syrah and mourvedre.
Two of the best-known and most enjoyable Cotes du Rhones come from E Guigal and M Chapoutier, among the largest producers in the region, but there are plenty more great offerings to choose from. As Jancis Robinson said, Cotes du Rhones is “one of the best-value appellations in the world.”
With that in mind, I’ll get straight to the point and tell you which wines I rate.
Wines to try:
E Guigal Cotes du Rhone 2009 (£10.99, Majestic, but widely available in the UK)
One of my favourites, this is often considered to be among the best wines in the appellation vintage after vintage. While other wines are made mostly of grenache, this tends to feature syrah very highly. For the 2009 vintage it contains 50 per cent syrah, 45 per cent grenache and 5 per cent mourvedre. With plenty of spice and structure, this goes nicely with food.
M Chapoutier Cotes du Rhone Belleruche 2010 (£9.99, Majestic, but widely available in the UK)
Again, this is one of the best of the lot and a consistent performer each year. Made mainly of grenache with a little bit of syrah, it displays cherries and black currants as well as the spiciness you come to expect from Rhone wines. A good one for lamb.
Domaine Andrew Brunel Cotes du Rhone 2009 (£10.99 but on offer for £9.99, Virgin Wines)
From a famous Rhone producer comes a cheaper, more accessible wine that, despite costing around a tenner, offers a great deal of enjoyment. With lots of spice, dark fruits like cherries and currants, this is great for an everyday drinking wine or even to go with lamb or sausages.
Cotes du Rhone Perrin Reserve 2010, Perrin & Fils (£13,95, Roberson Wine)
The Perrin family is renowned in the Rhone region, but this is mainly because they make one of the finest Chateauneuf-du-Papes in under their Beaucastel label. This, however, is an old-school Cotes du Rhone that is fresh, straightforward, no-nonsense and expressive of its fruit. If this seems a bit expensive compared to the others, why not try the Meridion Par Pierre Perrin Cotes du Rhone 2010 for £10.99 at Laithwaite’s? From a member of the famous family, this is exclusive to Laithwaite’s and displays all the classic characteristics of the region.