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Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge
The Côtes-du-Rhône, a generic appellation that covers the Rhône Valley is a name that rolls of the lips of drinkers of inexpensive French wine and will be found in any bistro or brasserie throughout the length and breadth of France. All told it is responsible for tens of millions of cases of cheap, pale colored, relatively low tannin red wine. Grenache is the grape variety most widely grown, though by itself it can be a bit anemic. Syrah and Mourvèdre are the main “improver” grape varieties used to add depth and fruit to blends, though they will not always be found in any quantity in most cheap Côtes-du-Rhônes. All of the major négociant houses present on the U.S. market produce a generic, widely blended Côtes-du-Rhône. Guigal tends to make the best example of this genre.

Fifty-four villages or communes have the right to use the appellation Cotes-du-Rhône Villages on the label. A higher proportion of Mourvèdre and Syrah, greater ripeness, and slightly lower yields are the quality factors that separate Côtes-du-Rhône from Côtes-du-Rhône Villages. A further 16 communes have the right to appendage their own names to the Côtes-du-Rhône Villages appellation. It is probably with some of these 16 that there is the best hope of relating general characteristics to specific communes—though there is much work to be done at the very least in marketing if not actually in the vineyard and winery before this has any consumer resonance. No doubt, when they succeed they will go the way of Vacqueyras and Gigondas—both former Côtes-du-Rhône Villages that now have their own appellation status.

The most significant of these village crus are listed below. They will generally produce wines with more character than base-standard Cotes-du-Rhônes.

Located to the northwest of Orange, Cairanne is one of the largest communes and its red wines are relatively full-bodied and gutsy. The best can age a few years.

Rasteau is probably the most impressive of the Côtes-du-Rhône Villages communes. A good Rasteau can often pass for a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The explanation lies with the vineyards, some of which are striking and stony in appearance, like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and as such these vineyards produce heady, powerful Grenache-based wines.

Sablet is located northeast of Orange. As the name suggests, it is a commune with sandy soils, and that may often account for this village’s lighter colored, elegant wines, though deeply hued and rich wines can also be found.

Red fruit and tobacco flavors are often reputed to be found in Séguret and I have certainly noted distinctive, berry-flavored wines from this commune just north of the Gigondas appellation.

Robust and relatively more tannic wines with flavors and aromas toward the black fruit spectrum are to be found in this northerly commune. (Wine/Appellations)