Anyone looking for a lush approachable barbeque red might well plump for a smooth herby Cotes du Rhone. The appellation is huge, covering 40,000 hectares, offering an overwhelming amount of choice.
Quality and style can vary considerably from vintage to vintage – and whether it comes from the north or south of the region. Cuvees in the northern Rhone focus on Syrah and tend to be more structured and higher in acid, whilst southern Rhone cuvees are often Grenache-dominant with a smoother earthier tone.
We have selected our favourite top ten Cotes du Rhones, with some of the richest pickings from the recent quartet of vintages: 2015 to 2018.
VINSOBRES COTES DU RHONE 2017 (14.5%)
You might never have heard of Vinsobres, one of the newly elevated Cotes du Rhone cru villages about 40 kilometres north of the famous Chateauneuf du Pape. It offers a soft gentle imitation of its famous neighbour’s style made from a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. It is lightly spicy with blackberry fruits and black pepper – a perfect barbeque red. I preferred Lidl’s Vinsobres in the riper 2015 vintage, but the tricker 2017 vintage still delivers at under £8.
COTES DU RHONE ROUGE, CLEMENT V 2018 Domaine de la Berthete (14.5%)
£11.69 reduced from £12.99 Virgin Wines
2018 was another great vintage, but quantities were very small so there is not much to go around. This unoaked example made by winemaker Pascal Maillet on a large 48 hectare estate in the heart of the southern Rhone. Very robust, dry and chunky and initially closed on the nose – it needs some aeration to discover the tobacco and garrigue notes.
COTES DU RHONE ROUGE 2013 Domaine Charvin (14%)
£16.99 Raeburn Wines, Edinburgh
A mature southern Rhone blend with 85% Grenache from a small grower with just 13 hectares in Cotes du Rhone. The Charvins have particularly old vines, 50-80 years, and very low yields. A traditional style with interesting layers of complexity and a hint of minerality. A lighter cuvee than others in the tasting as it comes from the cooler 2013 vintage.
COTES DU RHONE LES FOROTS 2015 Jean-Luc Colombo (13.5%)
£15.99 Luvians, Cupar & St Andrews; Oxford Wine Co; Harrods
This is in fact a single vineyard wine which is declassified Cornas made from 60 year old vines. Made from 51% Grenache and 49% Syrah – although as with many of Colombo’s wines that Syrah really seems to dominate. This is dense meaty with a smooth texture, smoky spicy notes and a licquorice note to the finish. If you can still find the 2015 on the shelf, snap it up.
COTES DU RHONE ROUGE, LA GRIFFE 2011 Domaine de Villeneuve (15%) ***STAR BUY***
£20.99 Raeburn Wines, Edinburgh
This might look pricey, but look how mature it is. Worth the money if you are looking for something really authentic and natural – and it really is a ‘natural’ wine made with zero sulphur, wild yeasts and bottled unfiltered and unfined. This hefty dense 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 20% Mourvedre blend is earthy, savoury with complex layers of wild flavours. The secret lies in its location at the northern point of Chateauneuf du Pape made from biodynamically-grown 50 year old vines on red clay and stony soils.
COTES DU RHONE VILLAGES ROUGE 2014 Paul Jaboulet (14%)
£12.50 reduced from £15.99 Rude Wines www.rudewines.co.uk
From the historic Jaboulet estate, now in the capable hands of Caroline Frey from Bordeaux. This Grenache dominant (80%) blend alongside Syrah and Mourvedre is initially very rich in black fruits, complex layers of flavours on the mid-palate with earthy undertones – it does finish a little dry, but it is an interesting mature example at such a reduced price.
BREZEME, COTES DU RHONE 2016 Charles Helfenbein (13%)
£19.95 Great Western Wines
Never heard of Brezeme? No wonder as this tiny appellation at the most southerly vineyard of the northern Rhone overlooking the Drome Valley often gets forgotten. Unbelievable to think that two centuries ago Brezeme wines rivalled the great Hermitage, but by the 1960s there was only one hectare remaining. Rhone is now back in fashion and Brezeme has been replanted and revitalized. This 100% Syrah is a lovely gutsy raspberry scented herby Rhone – very elegant on the finish.
COTES DU RHONE ROUGE 2017 Domaine Dieu-Le-Fit (14%) ***STAR VALUE BUY***
£11.50 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com
Loved this spicy Rhone from Remi Pouizin, a fifth generation wine grower who used to make wine at his father’s property Domaine La Fourmente – but decided to set up his own estate five years ago focusing on organic and biodynamic. Black pepper, licqorice, juicily fruity, elegant tannins on the finish. This is part of Berry Bros’ own label range and a very good buy at this price – tasted blind our tasters guessed it was £5 more expensive.
COTES DU RHONE VILLAGES ROUGE 2017 Domaine de Quilex (14%)
This example just made it into our final ten. It hails from the other Chateauneuf: the much smaller zone of Chateauneuf de Gadagne which is about 15 kilometres from the better known Chateauneuf du Pape. Made by the co-operative who own this 11 hectare domaine. I preferred the 2016 example, but this does have full plummy brambly notes with creamy texture and a light spicy finish.
CAIRANNE, COTES DU RHONE VILLAGES 2016 Domaine de l’Oratoire St Martin (14.5%) ***STAR BUY***
£26 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com
Complex elegant and densely packed with blackfruit flavours, clove and herb notes, vibrant acidity with a peppery spicy finish. Made by this historic C17 domaine now focusing on biodynamic farming for its very old vines. The Cairanne appellation is one of the Cotes du Rhone crus, promoted in 2016 – the vintage of this wine - a hot year which gave lovely ripeness and richness.
Taste a range of Grower Champagnes with Rose Murray Brown MW at The Royal Scots Club in Edinburgh on Thursday 29 August £45 www.rosemurraybrown.com