This week we welcome the return of Rhône Wine Week Ireland, celebrating all things vinous from this wonderfully diverse southern French wine region. To showcase the fabulous quality of the Côtes du Rhône AOC, all of our O'Briens Wine stores will be holding a Rhône tasting this weekend, Thursday 8th- Saturday 10th November featuring six exciting wines from the Côtes du Rhône AOC.
Located along the length of the Rhône river in southern France, this region has been cultivating vines since the Ancient Romans ruled the Mediterranean and is now the second largest wine producing region in France (behind Bordeaux) with 70,00 hectares under vine.
The whole regions boasts an impressive annual production of over 370 million bottles spread across 31 Appellations and 5,300 producers. This vast size leads to a range of wine styles from the elegant Syrah in the precipitous Northern Rhône to the rich bold blends from the warmer southern crus. A diverse variety of white, sparkling and sweet wines are also produced.
To better understand such diversity of wine styles the Rhône Valley is divided in to a hierarchy of production. At the first step of this ladder we find the Côtes du Rhône AOC, which can be made anywhere across the region. The next step is the Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC, production of which is limited to the town named on the bottle. These will display a little more locality and terroir than the basic classification.
At the top of the pyramid we find the Rhône Crus, the best known of which include Lirac, Gigondas and Chãteauneuf-du-Pape in the southern Rhône and Hermitage, Condrieu and Côte-Rôtie in the north. These are some of the most prestigious wines of the world.
Côtes du Rhône AOC
Whilst the prestige cru wines of the Rhône valley are eagerly sought after, the relatively humble Côtes du Rhône AOC can offer exceptional value high-quality wines. Many are made by the same producers as the more illustrious Rhône names, so the best receive the same meticulous focus on quality.
The Côtes du Rhône AOC accounts for almost half the entire production of the Rhône valley and wines with this label can originate from the northern or southern Rhône regions. However, as production in the northern Rhône is dominated by the prestigious crus and only accounts for 5% of the total Rhône valley output the vast majority of Côtes du Rhône AOC wines hail from the warmer southern regions.
In this warm Mediterranean influenced climate of the southern Rhône valley Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre dominate, but it is permitted to use a total of 21 grape varieties. The majority of production is red wine, accounting for 88% of the total output, but there are some rich and fragrant white wines primarily produced from the Marsanne, Rousanne and Viognier grape varieties.
The climate in this southern French region is typically Mediterranean with hot dry summers that are tempered by the cooling (and often violent) influence of the Mistral wind that blows down the valley from central France. This wind can wreak havoc with vines, but can also benefit the grape growers by inhibiting spring frosts.
The Wines of Côtes du Rhône AOC
With such a vast production area it is hard to give a definitive style for Côtes du Rhône AOC wines. But in general the best will have some of the same characteristics of the prestigious crus: medium to full-bodied with ripe red fruit and a warming peppery spice on the finish. These wines often offer extremely good value for money over Bordeaux at the same price. To further explore these delicious wines drop in to your local O'Briens store where you will be welcome to try six Côtes du Rhône AOC wines over the weekend.
There is a whole host of other events around the country to celebrate the exciting wines of the Rhône valley. For more information visit the Rhône Wine Week website at wwww.rhonewineweekireland.com/