Cotes du Rhone, which translates as “slopes of the Rhone,” designates the vast, non-contiguous expanse of vineyards in southeastern France, famous for red blends made with the grenache grape. The region encompasses about 140,000 acres in the southern Rhone River Valley.
More than two-thirds of the wines say Cotes du Rhone on the label. (The next level up in quality is a smaller, more tightly delineated appellation called Cotes du Rhone-Villages.) Grenache is the most widely planted grape, with syrah, cinsaut, mourvedre, carignan, and others cultivated alongside. In this sunny Mediterranean climate, reds reign. Fewer than 10 percent of bottles are white or rose. In all, upward of 400 million bottles of Cotes du Rhone are produced each year.
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From this sea of bottles, selecting value pours that offer both character and quality can be a challenge. Five bottles ($13 to $25) from Cotes du Rhone and environs capture the spirit of the southern Rhone. Three of the four producers farm 75 acres or less, and each is family-owned and run, notable in a region where 70 percent of total wine produced is made by cooperatives. These are all grenache blends, 13.5 percent to 14.5 percent alcohol by volume, that pair with warming dishes like wine-braised lamb shank or a root vegetable minestrone. Organic viticulture is the norm among this group.
The latest generation of these four wineries seems keen to learn from producers in other places, including California. Fifth-generation producer Sebastien Latour of Domaine de la Damase, for example, interned with Sonoma County winemaker Kenny Likitprakong of Hobo Wine Co. Similarly, Marie-Laurence and Elisabeth Saladin, representing the domaine that bears the family name, both did stints with Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard near Santa Cruz. The fact that these sisters, representing the 21st generation of family winemaking tradition, sought out Grahm, one of the original “Rhone Rangers” who set out in the 1980s to make Rhone-style bottles in the Golden State, is fascinating to contemplate. In a wine world where an exchange of ideas is increasingly common, it’s good to see winemakers in one sunny clime seek inspiration in another.
Domaine de Piaugier “La Grange” Cotes du Rhone 2013 Vibrantly perfumed fruit and floral aromas point to a palate that is pretty and lithe, with bright, food-friendly acidity supporting cherry, ripe red plum, gentle tannins, and a touch of black pepper. Finishes clean, leaving you ready for the next sip. Around $13. At Ball Square Fine Wines, Somerville, 617-623-9500; Beaver Brook Bottles, Waltham, 781-609-2576.
Domaine de Piaugier Sablet Cotes du Rhone-Villages 2012 Attractive scents of plum skin and rose petals in full bloom greet the nose. This elegant red offers a lovely weight in the mouth, full of peppery-savory warmth, rounded tannins, and appealing red fruit. Around $17. At Pairings Wine and Food, Winchester, 781-721-9463; Esprit du Vin, Milton, 617-296-9463.
Domaine Saladin “Paul” Cotes du Rhone 2013 Sophisticated scents of cranberry, floral, and a hint of soil. Smooth impression upon a first sip, with appetizing tartness, black pepper, and gentle tannins that evolve quite beautifully. “Paul” refers to the uncle of 21st-generation winemaking sisters at the helm of the domaine. Around $25. At Central Bottle Wine + Provisions, Cambridge, 617-225-0040; The Urban Grape, South End, 857-250-2509.
In this sunny Mediterranean climate, reds reign. Fewer than 10 percent of bottles are white or rose. In all, upwards of 400 million bottles of Cotes du Rhone are produced each year.
Domaine de la Damase Vin de Pays de Vaucluse 2013. Crushed red fruit aromas need time to bloom in this delightful, well-crafted quaff, which offers refreshing weight, tart fruit, and appealingly rustic tannins. Around $15. At Streetcar Wine & Beer, Jamaica Plain, 617-522-6416; at Social Wines, South Boston,
Clos du Mont-Olivet “La Sabonite” Vin de Table This simple red benefits from decanting ahead of time to allow it to open. Savory, soil-driven aromas emerge, followed by spicy red fruit. A tart dominant palate and a dollop of tannins characterize this winsome red, made by a famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape producer. Around $14. At Central Bottle Wine + Provisions; The Wine Bottega, North End, 617-227-6607.
Ellen Bhang can be reached at [email protected]