Côtes du Rhône wines have long been appreciated in Quebec. On the occasion of the SAQ’s 100th anniversary, the region’s producers wanted to show their attachment to Quebec. And the Quebecers are grateful. Many of them appreciate this French appellation that produces light, fruity and affordable red wines, as well as more tannic, long-aging and sun-soaked wines, but also pretty rosés and elegant white wines. This anniversary is a great opportunity for me to tell you more about the Côtes du Rhône wines, their history, their terroir and their fascinating diversity.
A bit of history
The Rhone Valley has always been a key gateway between northern Europe and the Mediterranean world. As early as 125 BC, the Romans planted vines here, but it was not until the 14th century that the region’s wines began to cross borders, notably to neighboring Italy.
The Pontifical Court, which was punctually exiled to Avignon, returned to Rome while keeping a good memory of the wines of Châteauneuf and the Côtes du Rhône. In fact, from 1367 to 1370, the pope had vines from the Côtes du Rhône planted in his garden. For decades, many of the jobs at the papal court were held by members of the Avignon aristocracy, who therefore had the wines of their country delivered to Rome. Exports to Rome continued as long as Avignon remained under Rome’s control in the 15th and 16th centuries.
During the 17th century, the wines of the Rhone Valley began to reach the Parisian market and to be found at the table of the Kings of France. But it was not until the 18th century that the Côtes du Rhône vineyards and the Rhone Valley wine industry really took off, supplying the French capital on a massive scale and also being successful on the British market.
The year 1937 saw the official creation of the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée – Côtes du Rhône.
© Syndicat des Côtes du Rhône
Geographical location and some figures
The vineyards of the Côtes du Rhône appellation are spread over 171 communes in 6 French departments (Ardèche, Drôme, Gard, Loire, Rhône and Vaucluse). The northern limit of the vineyard starts with the city of Vienne (Northern Côtes du Rhône) then the vineyard stretches all along the Rhône river until the city of Avignon (Southern Côtes du Rhône).
The 51,279 hectares of the Côtes du Rhône vineyards produce mostly red wine (87% of production), but also a little rosé (8%) and white wine (5%). 1,310,738 hl of wine are produced, a little more than a third of which is destined for export. Most of the production comes from the southern vineyards where the vines are dominated by Grenache (40% minimum). Syrah is very present in the northern part of Côtes du Rhône. Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Villages represent 59% of the total production of the Rhône Valley wines.
Soils and climates
In the Côtes du Rhône appellation, there are mainly five types of soils: pebble soils with clay soils; stony soils and stony spreading soils suitable for the production of wines for ageing, loessic soils and sandy soils, which give better results for the production of rosé, white and lighter red wines.
The Côtes du Rhône vineyards benefit from a Mediterranean climate, tempered by the Mistral, a cool and powerful wind that blows south along the Rhône Valley. The summers are hot and dry, interspersed with sometimes violent storms, and the winters are mild with little rainfall.
Cultivated Grape Varieties
The Côtes du Rhône appellation officially authorizes the cultivation of about twenty grape varieties. For red wines, the majority is Grenache, followed by Syrah and Mourvèdre. With the exception of wines from the northern part produced mainly from the Syrah grape, red and rosé wines must contain at least 30% Grenache and the Grenache/Syrah/Mourvèdre blend must represent at least 70% of the total. Cinsault can also be used to make red or rosé wines, as well as other grape varieties such as carignan, counoise, muscardin, vaccarèse, terret, etc.
In white, 80% of the grape varieties planted are white grenache, often blended with clairette, marsanne, roussanne, bourboulenc and viognier.
A mutual love between Quebec and Côtes du Rhône wines
As I mentioned in my introduction, 2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the SAQ. Quebecers’ love for the region’s wines has never faded and exports to Quebec have grown significantly in recent years. The winemakers of the appellation wished to pay tribute to the SAQ to highlight this long-standing commercial relationship and to thank it for offering Quebecers such a large and qualitative selection of wines from the region. Several winemakers testify in the short video below that I invite you to watch.
A first-class wine tourism destination
I could not end my article without informing you that the Côtes du Rhône is an important wine tourism destination. Whether it is to spend a weekend or your next vacation, the producers of the appellation have put everything in place to receive the wine lovers in the best conditions.
In this regard, the “Rendez-Vous Terroirs” initiative has set up a particularly vast and extensive wine tourism offer in the Rhône Valley. On the website, you will find 88 wineries offering no less than 220 activities!
Find out more about Côtes du Rhône Wines
If you want to learn more about Côtes du Rhône wines, I encourage you to visit www.cotesdurhone.com/en/.
And why not plan your next vacation in the region?
This article is a collaboration with Les vins des Côtes du Rhône.