Côtes du Rhône Villages (“CDRV”) is an entirely Southern Rhône appellation unlike Côtes du Rhône (“CDR”) which also covers the North. This makes the wines of CDRV much more homogeneous in character than those sold as CDR because the climate, soil, exposure and varietal make-up of the North and South are quite different. The CDRV area is, however, a somewhat moving target as I will detail below.
Let us begin by situating it in the historical context of this Southern Rhône region. The mass of the region’s wines were sold as CDR but certain villages did enjoy greater renown and appeared on labels without there being any rigorous standards or controls. Châteauneuf du Pape was the first zone in the region to develop its own appellation standards in the 1920s (indeed, I believe it was the model for the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (“AOC”) system in the whole of France). CDR was the regional generic appellation covering both North and South. In the South, certain zones, such as Tavel (for rosé), Lirac, Beaumes de Venise (for its sweet Muscat) and Rasteau (for its sweet fortified reds), obtained their own AOC and certain villages, such as Gigondas, Cairanne, Vinsobres, etc., won the right to add their name behind CDR on labels.
This seems to have been the situation by 1967 when the appellation CDRV was created (my 1970 edition of Larousse des Vins makes no mention of CDRV!?). The Southern villages from CDR deemed best, including the three mentioned in the previous paragraph, were transferred into this new appellation, somewhat stricter standards were applied, including submission to a tasting panel, and progressively over time more villages have been allowed to add their name after CDVR on the label.
As time passed, the villages Gigondas, Vacqueyras and in late 2005/ early 2006 Beaumes de Venise (for its normal reds in addition to its Muscat) and Vinsobres have been promoted to enjoy their own AOC. (To complete the regional picture it is worth adding that following outlying districts now enjoy their own AOC, namely Côtes du Vivarais, Coteaux du Tricastin, Côtes du Ventoux, Côtes du Luberon and Costières de Nîmes.)
At present the appellation zone for CDRV covers 7,890 hectares in the Départements of Gard (on the right bank of the Rhône), Vaucluse (round the papal city of Avignon on the left bank) and Drôme to its North. Fourteen village comprising 5,220 hectares have the right to add their name after CDRV and 70 villages comprising 2,670 hectares have to be content with just CDRV (source le Guide Hachette des Vins 2008). The most famous of these add-on villages are Cairanne and Rasteau, both more worthy of their own appellation, in my view, than Beaumes de Venise, Vinsobres and perhaps Vacqueyras, largely because of some exceptionally talented growers.
For the reds, authorised grape varieties are Grenache 50% minimum, Syrah and/or Mourvèdre 20% minimum and other regional varieties 20% maximum.
In general CDRV standards are much higher than those in CDR, although the CDRs Coudoulet de Beaucastel, Château de Fonsalette, and, from the North, Domaine A. Clape (100% Syrah and really a baby Cornas) are all very fine. As always, my loyalty goes more towards specific estates than towards specific appellations. I can personally recommend the following estates.
Domaine de l’Oratoire Saint-Martin in Cairanne (Alary) for both his reds and whites.
Domaine Marcel Richaud in Cairanne (with the proviso that I have heard that he is now using new oak barrels on his top cuvée, L’Ebrescade).
Domaine Gourt de Mautens (Bressy) in Rasteau (I have not tried the white, which is said to be excellent).
Domaine la Soumade (Roméro) in Rasteau.
Domaine de Beaurenard (Coulon) from Châteauneuf du Pape for his Rasteau.
Domaine Sainte-Anne (Stenmaier) in Saint-Gervais (Gard).
Domaine la Réméjeanne (Klein) from the Gard for his whole range, some CDRV and some CDR.
Some producers seem to get away with a liberal interpretation of the rules. For example Haut-Coustias, the top Cairanne cuvee of Oratoire Saint-Martin, contains 60% Mourvèdre.
I attach a link to the official Côtes du Rhône website providing a map, which appears to be out of date to the extent of still including Vinsobres and Beaumes de Venise within CDRV, and some useful factual information on the villages and rules on permitted yields and grape varieties. It is in French only but the factual part does not look too difficult to decode. (The equivalent pages in English seem to have been hacked!)
http://www.vins-rhone.com/pages/page.as ... r&rub=2520
And this link provides a map of the whole region, both North and South.
http://www.vins-rhone.com/pages/page.as ... r&rub=2100
The maps can be enlarged by clicking on them.