I headed to one of my favorite Atlanta wine shops the other day and I had a lovely conversation with an awesome wine consultant there. I was getting a recommendation on a new Côtes-du-Rhône and she mentioned that this category of wine was a hot seller for them. This surprised me.
“Why do you think these are such big sellers?,” I asked. The consultant posited that it was because the wines tended to be light, fruity, and un-offensive. I guess that’s usually true but I still find it odd that Americans, most of whom appear to be against wines that aren’t labeled with a grape type (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, etc) and who shun French wine, would easily grab something with not one, but two“ô.”
To get an answer on why Côtes-du-Rhône is so popular, I did what I always do. I brought some home to M.C. Ice so we could taste it and analyze the sitch.
Fortunately, M.C. Ice was pretty familiar with Côtes-du-Rhône. He said he felt comfortable buying it, and that the ones he’d had were usually ok. Despite his confidence, though, as we talked about it more, he finally asked, “what exactly is Côtes-du-Rhône, anyway?” Thus, confirming that, even without knowing what it is, “light, fruity, and familiar” are enough to make people cool with chugging this stuff down.
I guess that’s ok, but given that I’ve got you here and you may be curious, I’ll break down these wines for a sec, and give you some tips that may help you make better choices when you’re shopping. Can’t hurt, right?
Here are a few facts (ok, and commentary because I can’t help myself) on Côtes-du-Rhône, or CDR as it’s abbreviated:
- The wine is a blend, not a single grape.
- There are 22 grape varieties that winemakers can use to make the blend.
- It’s mostly always Grenache as the primary grape for reds and Marsanne and Rousanne for whites.
- Oh yeah – I should probably mention that there are red (common) and white (uncommon but can be great, especially with fish) versions, but most of it’s red.
- It’s from the Southern Rhône Valley.
- If you see “Villages” attached to the name, or a village name appended, it may be better quality.
- With 22 varieties and a bunch of blending possibilities – joker’s wild on what you could wind up with in the bottle.
Number 7 is especially important…and frustrating. It means that if you care what the wine tastes like, you’re going to need to taste a few of these, keep track of which ones you love, and buy again based on that. To get started, if you know you like Syrah, seek out wines with that as the main grape or as a significant portion of the blend. If you like Grenache, try a few different CDRs to see which has the best expression of that grape.
What I wouldn’t do: try one, decide they all suck, and never have them again. By doing this, you miss the beauty of a blend – if you don’t like the way one wine gets put together, there’s always another option.
Below is a quick review of the Perrin Reserve, which we tried the other night. I’d also recommend you look back at the review for the Delas CDR, which I reviewed in a previous post, for comparison. These wines have vastly different profiles – the Delas is mostly Syrah, and Perrin Reserve is mostly Grenache. Try them both, then let me know what you think. I think they are as different as Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, but that’s just me.
Color: A darker pigment in the center (from Syrah and Mourvèdre) but brighter, kind of ruby colors showed on the edge and the rim was a little watery (from the other grapes).
Smell: This smelled hot from the alcohol (Grenache can give off that hot smell, BTW). The wine was light and pleasant though, and there was a really great and distinct mineral component. A second sniff gave off strawberry and raspberry but it was kind of hidden behind the wet rock/mineral thing.
Taste: To me, Perrin et Fils (who also owns Chateau Beaucastel, who makes Tablas Creek wines, which I’ve reviewed) always does a really great job. I actively seek out their wines because I know they put care into all tiers. They are a safe bet for me.
This wine had great tart cherry, dried strawberry, pomegranate, black pepper, and mineral flavors. The acid was prominent but not overwhelming, and there were soft tannins that added dimension without killing your mouth.
Food: This wine would do well with mushroom-based sauces and roasted stuff. It needs something earthy to balance its acid and slight bitterness, but not something too heavy that will kill its fabulous fruit components. Roasted foods should do it.
Drink or Down the Sink?: Drink. Although slightly bitter and a tad hot on the palate, the overall impression of wine was well balanced. The tart fruit was lively, the wet rock was awesome and interesting, and the acidic texture was vibrant. Best of all, for a weeknight wine, this is an unbelievable value.