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Tim York

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Côtes du Rhône Village: a sketch of history & present with some opinion.

by Tim York » Thu Nov 01, 2007 4:45 am

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.
Tim York
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Re: Côtes du Rhône Village: a sketch of history & present with some opinion.

by David Lole » Thu Nov 01, 2007 5:19 am

Tim,

Great write-up - most informative and educational to this CDR Villages learner driver. The only Domaine on your list I've had the pleasure of enjoying thus far is Soumade - and from a few "average" vintages in the nineties, namely '94 and '97. The traits that have impressed most about these savoury, elegant wines are their ability to age gracefully for at a decade (no doubt, sometimes more in better vintages) and the fact they represented extremely good QPR when puchased some years back. Not sure on the current state of affairs in this appellation but I'm keen as mustard to see what crops up in this month's experiment.
Cheers,

David
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Re: Côtes du Rhône Village: a sketch of history & present with some opinion.

by Bob Parsons Alberta » Thu Nov 01, 2007 11:03 am

Thanks for the introduction Tim. Very informative write-up and great map.
Living in Europe gives you a leg up on me, I have not come across your recs but like to think I have a fair selection out here! I guess the blends will vary from place to place/winery to winery?
Should be a great month and hopefully there will be some websites of some of the wineries we are going to visit. Its a very historic region is it not?

This is one winery I will be concentrating on.....................................>

http://www.domainebrusset.fr/uk/Welcome.htm
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Re: Côtes du Rhône Village: a sketch of history & present with some opinion.

by Sue Courtney » Fri Nov 02, 2007 4:51 pm

Thanks for the info piece Tim. Pieces like this are always great to see and read. France is probably the most complicated place for wine regions and law and we can see this in this piece with new AOC's being created for certain villages. I spoke to a friend who has recently returned from a few weeks in France (RWC trip) and lamented, "They don't put the grapes on the label. We mostly didn't know what we were drinking." But he didn't go to the Rhone - and most of my fellow drinkers know it is predominantly grenache and syrah as we do see quite a few Rhone wines here. But are they CDRV?

I put all your recommended wines through wine-searcher.com with no resulting hits for New Zealand. I've heard of Domaine la Soumade and Rasteau and thought I might be lucky on that one but no. Replacing NZ with UK returned 51 hits for the keyword.

So I might be sitting this topic out.

Cheers,
Sue
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Re: Côtes du Rhône Village: a sketch of history & present with some opinion.

by Tim York » Fri Nov 02, 2007 5:25 pm

Sue,

You may have better luck in NZ with the well known former CDRV villages, Gigondas and Vacqueyras, which Robin has ruled in. Respected growers in Gigondas include Raspail Ay, Cayron, Espiers, Goubert and Santa Duc and, in Vacqueyras, la Monardière and Armouriers. Also the de luxe négotiant Tardieu-Laurent has offerings in these villages which greatly please those who are not allergic to his lavishly wooded style.

Re the no-show of grape varieties on labels in France, the French argue that the character of the wine is determined by terroir and local tradition, of which grape varieties, usually blended, are only a part. When Chablis and Meursault taste so different, how do you guide the consumer who asks for Chardonnay?
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Re: Côtes du Rhône Village: a sketch of history & present with some opinion.

by Sue Courtney » Fri Nov 02, 2007 6:01 pm

I have since simply searched for 'Rasteau' and had about 7 hits. Some are quite reasonable too, under $20NZ. We have a specialist French retailer, Maison Vauron, who has all sorts of different and exciting wines and one of the major chains brings some in too.
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Re: Côtes du Rhône Village: a sketch of history & present with some opinion.

by Bob Parsons Alberta » Fri Nov 02, 2007 7:13 pm

Great Sue, looks like you are all set!! BTW, your blog rocks!
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Re: Côtes du Rhône Village: a sketch of history & present with some opinion.

by Bob Parsons Alberta » Sat Nov 03, 2007 10:55 am

Tim wrote....Re the no-show of grape varieties on labels in France, the French argue that the character of the wine is determined by terroir and local tradition, of which grape varieties, usually blended, are only a part. When Chablis and Meursault taste so different, how do you guide the consumer who asks for Chardonnay?

Brings me to another point tasters should remember this month! I suspect that many domaines use different percentages of grape variety content, Tim is it fair to say the legal choice is Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvedre?
Also do any CDRV producers blend in a little Viognier?

As an aside, one book I always turn to is The Wines of the Rhone (1992) by John Livingstone-Learmouth. Full of historical information and well-written accounts of past vintages. He also has a website out there somewhere.
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Re: Côtes du Rhône Village: a sketch of history & present with some opinion.

by Tim York » Sat Nov 03, 2007 5:03 pm

Re CDRV grape varieties, what the rules say and what the growers do are not always the same thing.

Per the CDR official site, the rules say that there must be 50% Grenache and 20% Syrah and/or Mouvèdre minimun with "autres cépages de l'appellation" 20% maximum. On another page in site they say that Carignan and Cinsault may go into the blend 20% maximum, but I am not clear whether that applies to the aggregate of the two or to each individually. Counoise, Muscardin, Camarèse et Vacarèse and Picpoul are also mentioned with specific reference to their use in Gigondas.

Alary publishes openly on his website that there is 60% Mourvèdre in his Haut-Coustias cuvée so clearly the authorities are turning a blind eye to what he is doing. It would not surprise me if some Viognier found its way into red blends. It is allowed and is definitely used in the whites.
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Re: Côtes du Rhône Village: a sketch of history & present with some opinion.

by Bob Parsons Alberta » Sun Nov 04, 2007 11:40 am

Thanks for this note Tim. As an aside and talking Mourvedre from elsewhere(??), last night I sampled a 60% Mourvedre from Rutherglen, Victoria! What a meaty monster and do not expect to find one like this in the CDR, hopefully.
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Re: Côtes du Rhône Village: a sketch of history & present with some opinion.

by Bob Parsons Alberta » Sun Nov 04, 2007 11:42 am

He also has a website out there somewhere. Apparently, J L-L site is down right now, according to the guys on the UK forum.
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Re: Côtes du Rhône Village: a sketch of history & present with some opinion.

by Tim York » Sun Nov 04, 2007 11:57 am

I have read somewhere that Mouvèdre is sensitive to wind and consequently does not do well in a lot of sites in the Rhône valley which is frequently swept by the strong cold Mistral north wind. They need to be planted on south facing slopes or behind a dense row of cypress trees.

In Bandol natural protection is provided by coastal hills.
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Re: Côtes du Rhône Village: a sketch of history & present with some opinion.

by Tony Fletcher » Mon Nov 12, 2007 7:37 pm

Tim

Thanks for the excellent piece about the CDRV. It's one of my favorite areas for wine values, even if some of the Villages have been "discovered" in recent years with the result that certain cuvees from the likes of Brusset, Soumade and Gourt des Martens are in the $50-$100 price range.

Years ago, and it's a little dated now, I wrote about the Villages in some detail on my own site: http://ijamming.net/Wine/CotesduRhoneVillages1.html
in which I tried to work my way through the different Villages and their subtle differences.

Pertaining to your last comment, I was at a tasting not too long ago and asked one of the Cotes du Rhone producers how come they were bottling a pure Syrah when it was clearly against the rules. They made it equally clear that the rules were there to be broken when it would better serve the wine.

Tony
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