The Côtes du Rhône offers such a wide variety of wonderful wines and the values are often incredible. But it is not as simple of a wine category and region as one might think.
First are the grapes…there are 13 allowed in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the same plus quite a few are allowed in CdR (Côtes du Rhône). As of 1996 Southern Rhône red CdR must contain at least 40% Grenache Noir in the blend, with Syrah, Mourvédre, Cinsault, Carignan, Vaccarése, Counoise, Muscardin, Picpoul Noir, Clairette Rosé, Terret Noir as the other reds allowed plus the following whites: Bourboulenc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, Ugni Blanc, Picpoul Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Clairette Blanc. Red wine represents 95% of the total wine production, white grapes can be blended into the reds. After figuring out the grapes, one needs to consider the regions, which are varied. In the Northern Rhône, the only red allowed is Syrah in the CdR and the whites are predominantly Roussanne and Viognier with the possibility of some Marsanne, which can be in blended into the reds.
The CdR wine regions (old crap map…I’m working on better ones soon to rollout @ vineclub.org) are pretty large and include various sub-regions that can be downgraded into the CdR AOC. Note that the first official wine region of France was the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region that is the basis of Côtes du Rhône, it was instituted in 1937. The CdR region includes vineyards as far north as Vienne (surrounding Côte-Rôtie) and as far South as Avignon. Vineyard area in 2000 was about 100,000 acres!
Downgrading a wine to a lower Appellation, means that a producer in one of the smaller more prestigious regions has some younger vines or some wine that doesn’t meat his standards for a Côte-Rôtie or Hermitage. The wine can be labeled as the ‘lesser’ CdR appellation. This often offers great value. An excellent example would the St-Peray from Alain Voge, St-Péray can only be a white (sparkling or still) wine from Marsanne and Roussanne. Alain owns vineyards their planted to old-vine syrah, it can’t be labeled St-Péray so he labels the wine as Côtes du Rhône. Stunning wine for a really excellent value if you can find it. Alain Voge is a producer of wonderful Cornas, which are usually quite expensive. So you get his talented winemaking, great old-vine Syrah at a very reasonable price!