What Exactly IS Côtes-du-Rhône? Quick lesson and Perrin Reserve Review

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:

  1. The wine is a blend, not a single grape.
  2. There are 22 grape varieties that winemakers can use to make the blend.
  3. It’s mostly always Grenache as the primary grape for reds and Marsanne and Rousanne for whites.
  4. 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.
  5. It’s from the Southern Rhône Valley.
  6. If you see “Villages” attached to the name, or a village name appended, it may be better quality.
  7. 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.

 

The Wine: Perrin Reserve Côtes-du-Rhône
Where It’s From: Rhône Valley, France
The Grapes:
Grenache (60%), Syrah (20%), Mourvèdre (10%), Cinsault (10%)
Vintage:
2007
Price:
$7.99

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.

 

  • Love all the Perrin wines. They’re a great way for people to cheaply experience the Rhone. You ought to try the Villages too if you get the chance. It’s got a bit more structure and is a bit more serious. Only a couple bucks more.

    http://www.vivalawino.com/2009/09/perrin-fils-cotes-du-rhone-villages.html

  • Anonymous

    There is — or was — a “dirty little secret” regarding the Perrin/Beaucastel brands: minimum order number. Go into virtually any non-chain wine shop in Paris, and you see lots of Perrin sitting not far away from a few bottles of the Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape.Why’s that? Because the domaine imposed a minimum order, so to get only one or two cases of the CdP, the caviste had to inflate the order quantities up to a minimum order by adding the low-end products. Again, I do not know if this is still the case.

    That said, Perrin is perfectly drinkable, but in a discussion on Côtes du Rhône, why be so “commercial”? I used to have a wine shop in Paris that specialized in wines from southern France, and the Rhones were well represented. If you can find anything by the Domaine de l’Ameillaud (in Cairanne), particularly the 2009 Cotes du Rhone, run toward it. I tasted it still in cuve at ViniSud in February, and it was absolute velvet. Same goes for nearly anything by Domaine de Soumade, Corinne Couturier, the Alary brothers — all in the Rasteau and Cairanne area — and even the almost unknown Domaine Martin in Plan de Dieu.They all make splendid Rhones that are alarming in their affordability.In my five years as a caviste in Paris, I can make this bold claim: I never tasted a single bad estate-bottled Cotes du Rhone when searching them out in the south of France.

  • I have no doubt that Perrin does that. I worked for a large wine company in California and all that dirty dealing seems to go on in this industry. Sad, but true. I’ve got limited access to some of the brands you are citing, but I will definitely look for them or try, at minimum to review something from Rasteau or something estate bottled.

    The beauty of the Perrin — it’s widely available, and affordable. Did you see the review on the Delas St. Esprit? What is your opinion of that wine? I’d love to hear!

    Thanks so much for reading and for your insightful comment!
    Elizabeth