Good Value ‘House Wine’? Try a Côtes du Rhône

Côtes du Rhône wines

Côtes du Rhône wines

Are you looking for a versatile wine you can enjoy with all kinds of casual food—grilled meats, pastas, pizza? Would you like to find a “house wine” for under $20 that still makes a meal feel special? France’s gigantic eastern appellation—the Rhône—may be a better value than you might think.

The Rhone’s greatest appellations—Hermitage and Cote Rôtie in the north, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the south—command top dollar these days. Mid-level wines from these regions go for $50 to $80, and top cuvees easily fetch $100 to $200 or more.

Other appellations in the Rhône—like Gigondas and Vacqueyras—have also been “discovered,” and prices there are climbing. In the vast parts of the Rhône that aren’t located in one of these top appellations, however, there are huge amounts of good wine made, and values to be found.

The boundaries of the catch-all Rhône appellation Côtes du Rhône (meaning hills or slopes of the Rhône, which is the name of the river that runs through this region) stretch 125 miles from Vienne down to Avignon, comprising over 200,000 planted acres. North of Montélimar the dominant grape is Syrah. In the south, Grenache is the primary grape, but blends there usually include other varieties as well, especially Syrah and Mourvèdre. The vast majority of wines labeled as Côtes du Rhône come from the southern part of the appellation, and 95% of what’s produced is red wine, which is where this area excels, in my opinion.

Northern and Southern Rhone (map courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Thanks to the Grenache, there’s usually ripe cherry and/or berry fruit showing on the palate. Thanks to the terroir—the climate, soils and locations where the grapes for these wines are grown—they also tend to show the same sort of “garrigue” or Provençal herb characteristics that are prized in the Rhone’s top southern appellations–Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Vacqueyras. These herbal aromas and flavors include lavender, rosemary, bay leaf and licorice. There’s also often a pepper and/or tar component, owing to the Syrah and Mourvèdre in the blend.

Couple these appetizing flavor characteristics with the mouthwatering acidities and minerality typical of wines of this region and you have a killer drink with just about any food combination, for not a lot of money.

A much smaller area, containing about 7400 acres of vineyards, is entitled to a higher level designation: Côtes du Rhône Villages. It is comprised of 94 specified communes and has slightly stricter requirements as to yields and alcohol levels than plain old Côtes du Rhône. Grenache must make up at least 50% of the blend for these wines, together with at least 20% Syrah and/or Mourvèdre, along with up to 20% of other authorized varieties. Wines labeled Côtes du Rhône Villages will typically be priced about 25% more than Côtes du Rhône.

A higher level yet in the Côtes du Rhône hierarchy are the 18 village appellations that are permitted to use their village name on the label. This amounts to a total of 16,000 planted acres. The top villages among the 18 to look for when you’re shopping are Cairanne, Sablet and Vinsobres. I find the quality pretty variable in named village Côtes du Rhône, but these will, nonetheless, usually be priced at about 50% more than regular Côtes du Rhône.

Some of the best Côtes du Rhône wines are made by producers who make highly regarded wines from the top appellations, names like Auguste Clape, J.L. Chave, and Pierre Usseglio. Others are blended from selected lots by negoçiant merchants, like Chapoutier and Guigal.

Jean Pierre Usseglio

Jean Pierre and Sandrine Usseglio

The last few vintages have been particularly strong for Côtes du Rhône wines. 2009 was a relatively ripe year; 2010 was cooler, and many very balanced versions were made. So far I’m really enjoying the 2011s I’ve tried, which are just starting to hit the market (where there are still many ‘09s and ‘10s available for purchase).

The 2011 vintage was weaker in the south of the region, which is leading some producers to “declassify” their wines from prime appellations, like Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas, down to the Côtes du Rhône level. This should lead to some very good wines and values for short term drinking.

Below I list 40 wines with tasting notes and average retail prices from the three types of Côtes du Rhône appellations cited above, as well as one delicious wine that’s made in the appellation but not permitted to use the name Côtes du Rhône on its label because its blend includes Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, not among the authorized grapes for Côtes du Rhône. That is the Domaine Pierre Usseglio Panorama Vin de France, which can usually be found for between $15 and $20. The 2011 version is particularly appealing.

Mas de Boislauzon Côtes du Rhône

Mas de Boislauzon Côtes du Rhône

The best values, between $15 and $20, on my list are the 2010 Michel Gassier Cercius Vieilles Vignes (92+ points), 2010 and 2011 Mas de Boislauzon Côtes du Rhône Villages (91+ and 92 points, respectively), 2010 Perrin & Fils Côtes du Rhône Villages Vinsobres Les Cornuds (91 points), 2011 Domaine Lafond Côtes du Rhône Roc-Epine (91 points) and 2011 Domaine Olivier Hillaire Côtes du Rhône Vieilles Vignes (91 points).

My very top rated wines for this appellation, at 93 points each, are a little pricier: 2011 Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils Côtes du Rhône (averaging $24) and 2009 Domaine Auguste Clape Côtes du Rhône (Syrah based, $36).

Other producer names to look for are Domaine Gramenon, Domaine Grand Veneur, J.L. Chave, Les Vignerons d’Estézargues (a co-op), and Saint-Cosme.

Highly Recommended

    Pierre Usseglio Rhônes

    Pierre Usseglio Rhônes

  • 2011 Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils Côtes du Rhône
    Dark ruby color; appealing, lifted, beet juice, tart plum, light pepper nose; a little tight, dried berry, charcoal, garrigue, pepper palate; needs 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (80% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre) 93 points (selling for average of $24)

  • 2009 Domaine Auguste Clape Côtes du Rhône
    Opaque purple red violet color; nice tart black fruit, tar, licorice, black pepper nose; tight, coiled, concentrated, complex, tarry, tart black fruit, lovely herbs, licorice palate; medium-plus finish 93 points ($38)

  • 2010 Michel Gassier Cercius Vieilles Vignes
    Dark black red violet color; appealing, savory, light brett, tar, blackberry confit nose; tasty, rich but appealing, tart black fruit, tar, blackberry, black pepper, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (85% Grenache, 15% Syrah; like a baby Châteauneuf-du-Pape) 92+ points (widely available at about $18)

  • 2011 Mas de Boislauzon Côtes du Rhône Villages
    Opaque ruby color; appealing, roasted cherry, baked cherry, ripe berry nose; tasty, plush, ripe berry, roasted cherry, garrigue, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (50% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre) 92 points ($15)

  • 2011 Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils Vin de Table Panorama Palette d’Arômes
    Medium dark red violet color; beet juice, light pepper, dried red fruit nose; tasty, dried cherry, dried berry, mineral, garrigue palate; medium-plus finish (50% Merlot, 40% Grenache, 5% Syrah, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)-not a Côtes du Rhône because of the blend 92 points ($20)

  • 2010 Mas de Boislauzon Côtes du Rhône Villages
    Dark ruby color; ripe berry, tart black frig nose; tasty, tar, asphalt, mineral, very tart black fruit, licorice palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points ($18)

  • Nicolas Boiron Côtes du Rhône

    Nicolas Boiron Côtes du Rhône

  • 2011 Domaine Nicolas Boiron Côtes du Rhône
    Very dark ruby color; appealing, tart berry, dried berry nose; tight, tart berry, dried berry, garrigue palate with medium acidity; needs 1 year and should go 10; medium-plus finish (80% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 10% Cinsault) 91+ points (2010 selling for $23)

  • 2010 Perrin & Fils Côtes du Rhône Villages Vinsobres Les Cornuds
    Very dark cherry red color; savory, pepper, charcoal nose; tasty, very tart black fruit, charcoal, pepper palate; very poised and appealing Cotes du Rhone; ready now and should go 5-7 years; medium-plus finish (50/50 Grenache and Syrah) 91 points ($20 on average)

  • 2010 Domaine Gramenon Côtes du Rhône Poignee de Raisins
    Very dark ruby color; nice, fresh, tart berry, grenadine, dried berry, light herb nose; tasty, light and fresh, dried berry, tart mulberry, lavender, light pepper, black fruit palate; medium-plus finish (reminiscent of Occhipinti wines) 91 points ($26)

  • 2011 Domaine La Consonnière
    Dark ruby color; appealing, tart cherry, dried cherry, dried raspberry nose; tasty, tart cherry, dried cherry, dried raspberry palate; medium-plus finish (50% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 25% Cinsault) 91 points (not yet available in the U.S.)

  • Lafond Côtes du Rhône

    Lafond Côtes du Rhône

  • 2011 Domaine Lafond Côtes du Rhône Roc-Epine
    Dark ruby color; appealing, grenadine syrup, baked raspberry, maraschino cherry nose; rounded, tart grenadine syrup, baked raspberry, light garrigue palate; medium-plus finish (70% Grenache, 30% Syrah; good value) 91 points ($15)

  • 2011 Domaine Olivier Hillaire Côtes du Rhône Vieilles Vignes
    Very dark ruby color; dried berry, herbs, garrigue nose; tasty, dried berry, herbs, garrigue, rosemary, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (60% Grenache, 40% Syrah) 91 points (2010 selling for $17)

  • 2010 Domaine Roche Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne “La Bousquette”
    Opaque purple red violet color; anise, very tart berry, charcoal nose; tasty, rounded, tart berry, tart black plum, tart blackberry, mulberry, lilac palate with medium acidity; ready now and should go 6-7 years; medium-plus finish (85% Grenache, 15% Carignan; 16% alcohol) 91 points ($24)

Recommended

  • 2010 Domaine Grand Veneur Côtes du Rhône Les Champauvins
    Very dark red violet color; appealing, savory, dried herb, dried thyme, dried fig nose; tasty, very tart black fruit, thyme, charcoal, light pepper, brett palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points ($18)

  • 2009 J.L. Chave Sélection Côtes du Rhône Mon Coeur
    Dark red violet color; tart berry, plum, light violet nose; a little tight, poised, tart berry, tart plum, mineral palate; approachable now and could go 4-5 years; medium-plus finish (60/40 Syrah/Grenache; Syrah from north facing parcels) 90+ points ($21 for ’09 & ‘10)

  • 2009 Les Vignerons d’Estézargues Côtes du Rhône Domaine d’Andézon
    Slightly cloudy opaque red violet color; savory, bay leaf, peppercorn, tart plum nose; focused, juicy, tart plum, savory, peppercorn, bay leaf, very tart black fruit palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (90% Syrah, 10% Grenache; 14.5% alcohol) 90 points (’09 & ’10 averaging $14)

  • 2010 Domaine Olivier Hillaire Côtes du Rhône Vieilles Vignes
    Medium ruby color; nice tart berry, garrigue, anise nose; tart red berry, garrigue, light pepper, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 90 points ($17)

  • 2009 Saint-Cosme Côtes du Rhône
    Opaque dark red violet color; garrigue, tart black fruit, green herb nose; garrigue, tart black fruit, green peppercorn palate; medium finish 89 points ($15)

  • 2011 Domaine de la Côte de l’Ange Côtes du Rhône
    Dark ruby color; appealing, baked cherry, light pepper, garrigue nose; tasty, baked cherry, light pepper, garrigue palate; needs 1 year; medium-plus finish (70% Grenache, 30% Syrah) 89 points (2010 selling for $18)

  • 2009 Domaine Grand Veneur Côtes du Rhône Les Champauvins
    Very dark red violet color; appealing, smoky, tart black fruit, tar, oregano nose; tight, tart berry, anise, garrigue, tart black fruit palate with firm, sweet tannins; medium-plus finish 89 points ($20)

  • August Clape Côtes du Rhône

    August Clape Côtes du Rhône

  • 2010 Domaine Auguste Clape Côtes du Rhône
    Opaque purple red violet color; reduction, tart and ripe black fruit, espresso, tar nose; very tight, tart black fruit, tar, tart berry palate with very firm tannins; needs 3 years; medium-plus finish 89 points (pricey at $36)

  • 2009 Le Clos du Caillou Côtes du Rhône Les Quartz
    Medium dark ruby color with pale meniscus; wild berry, herbs, garrigue nose; tasty, wild berry, garrigue, anise palate; drinking fine now, should go 3-4 years; medium-plus finish (85% Grenache, 15% Syrah) 89 points (pricey at $36)

  • 2011 Domaine Albin Jacumin Côtes du Rhône Les Bédines
    Very dark ruby color; fresh, beet juice nose; fresh, simple, beet juice, ripe red currant palate; medium finish (90% Grenache, 7% Syrah, 3% Cinsault) 88 points (’09 selling for $17)

  • 2010 Château de Beaucastel Côtes du Rhône Coudoulet de Beaucastel
    Dark ruby color; tart berry, light garrigue nose; tight, tart berry, light garrigue palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points (pricey at $30)

  • 2009 Domaine Galévan Côtes du Rhône l’Esprit Devin
    Dark red violet color; nice, ripe black fruit, anise nose; tart black fruit, anise, tart berry palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points (60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 20% Mourvedre) 88 points ($18)

  • 2009 Domaine Galévan Côtes du Rhône Paroles de Femme
    Dark purple red violet color; ripe berry, tart black fruit nose; ripe berry, tart black fruit palate; medium-plus finish (60% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre, 10% Cinsault, 10% Carignan) 88 points ($18)

  • 2010 Les Vins de Vienne (Cuilleron Gaillard Villard) Côtes du Rhône Les Cranilles
    Very dark purple red violet color; very tart plum, tart currant nose; tight, tart black fruit, tar, tart currant, anise palate with a touch of garrigue; needs 3-4 years; medium-plus finish (60% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre; 12 mos. 75% in French oak and 25% in vats) 88 points ($17)

  • 2010 Domaine des Escaravailles Côtes du Rhône Les Sablières
    Medium dark cherry red color; tart red berry, tart cherry nose; tight, tart cherry, mineral, light garrigue palate; medium-plus finish 88 points ($15)

  • 2009 Domaine de Piaugier Côtes du Rhône Villages Sablet Tenebi
    Dark ruby color; tart red berry, tart currant nose; tart currant, tart red plum palate with firm tannins; needs 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (100% Counoise–doesn’t meet the AOC requirements for Cotes du Rhone Villages, which are supposed to contain a minimum 50% Grenache, but apparently this wine was grandfathered into the appellation) 88 points ($15)

  • 2010 M. Chapoutier Côtes du Rhône Belleruche
    Light medium orange pink color; tart currant, light tart cherry nose; tart cherry, tart currant palate with good acidity; medium finish 88 points ($12)

  • 2009 Les Halos de Jupiter Côtes du Rhône
    Very dark black red violet color; deep tart plum, violet, tart berry nose; tight, tasty, tart berry, tart black fruit, garrigue, anise palate with firm tannins; medium-plus finish 88 points ($15)

  • 2009 Le Clos du Caillou Côtes du Rhône Vieilles Vignes Cuvée Unique
    Medium dark red violet color with pale meniscus; rich cherry, black cherry, dried berry, anise nose; tight, tart cherry, garrigue, anise, dried berry palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points (77% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 8% Carignan, 5% Mourvedre) 88 points ($26)

  • Others

    • 2011 Roger Sabon Côtes du Rhône
      Dark ruby color; tart plum, light garrigue nose; tart plum, light garrigue palate; medium finish 87+ points 87+ points (2010 sells for $15)

    • 2010 Domaine Constant-Duquesnoy Côtes du Rhône Villages Vinsobres
      Opaque purple red violet color with slight cloudiness; savory, light brett, green peppercorn, olive tapenade nose; savory, tart black fruit, olive tapenade, charcoal palate; medium-plus finish (75% Grenache, 25% Syrah) 87+ points (’09 sells for $20)

    • 2009 Delas Frères Côtes du Rhône Saint-Esprit
      Dark red violet color; tart red berry, tart cherry nose with herbal lift; tight, simple but juicy, tart cherry, red berry, graphite palate with medium acidity; medium finish 87 points ($12)

    • 2009 Domaine La Millière Côtes du Rhône Villages Très Vieilles Vignes
      Dark ruby color with pale meniscus; ripe red berry, black raspberry, vanilla nose; soft, ripe black raspberry, vanilla palate with soft tannins; medium finish (suggests micro-oxygenation but not Cotes du Rhone; 90% old vine Grenache, 5% Syrah, 5% Cinsault) 87 points (2010 is $21)

    • 2010 Domaine Gramenon Côtes du Rhône L’Elementaire
      Very dark purple red violet color; fresh, stewed berry, spicy black fruit nose; very tight, tart berry, tart plum, light garrigue palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish 87 points (pricey at $27)

    • 2010 Domaine André Brunel Côtes du Rhône
      Dark ruby color; tart currant, tart cherry nose; tart currant, tart cherry palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 86 points ($12)

    • 2009 J. Vidal-Fleury Côtes du Rhône
      Opaque purple red violet color; brett, tart plum nose; brett, tart black fruit palate; medium-plus finish 86 points ($12)

    • 2009 Vignobles La Coterie Côtes du Rhône Villages Séguret
      Medium ruby color; briary, roasted plum, roasted berry nose; tight, roasted plum, roasted berry, tart plum, garrigue palate; medium finish 86+ points (75% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre) 86 points ($13)

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3 Responses to Good Value ‘House Wine’? Try a Côtes du Rhône

  1. Pingback: Good Value ‘House Wine’? Try a Côtes du Rhône | News Updates

  2. Zach says:

    Thanks for the notes Richard. I agree with the premise of this post.

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