The Best New Cotes du Rhone Releases

Given the wide range of styles, not to mention varying levels of quality, within the far-reaching and all-encompassing "Cotes-du-Rhone" category, generalizing about the wines would simply be simply impossible--or at the very least, highly misleading.  From whites raised in stainless steel tanks and Beaujolais-like reds made via carbonic maceration to barrel-fermented whites and intense, full-throttle reds intended for extended cellaring, this region offers some of everything.  For the sake of economy the wines we include in this annual review are those that are not from appellations that are covered in our more focused Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Vacqueyras pieces, which are published in January, or in our Northern Rhone coverage, which is released in March.  That said, a few examples of wines that didn't make it to us under the deadlines for those respective articles are included here as well.

It's the rare producer from anywhere in the Rhone Valley who doesn't bottle wines beyond those from their marquee vineyards.  That's because most domains own vineyards that lie outside (but often right next to) the government-decreed appellation boundaries and whose fruit is thus prohibited from being included in those bottlings.  In many cases vineyards have simply been carved up by the authorities, with appellation limits literally split by a row of vines.  That's bad news for a grower who is forced to make a "simple" Cotes-du-Rhone bottling from vines that sit on the "wrong" side of the border, which means that that wine will sell for less--often much less--than its more privileged sibling.  But that's great news for consumers because those wines often receive the same attention as their thoroughbred stablemates and at the very least are made with a similar philosophy and style.

It's also worth noting that many of the wines that are included here are made by producers who own no vines in the fancy neighborhoods of the Rhone, especially in the south.  A number of these wineries are held by the locals in the same regard as those in Chateauneuf, Gigondas or Vacqueyras, by the way.  Pedigree doesn't always equate to quality, as long-time wine lovers know all too well.  But because the wine world at large maintains a strict pecking order when it comes to pricing there's only so much a Rasteau or Cairanne producer, for example, can charge for their wines, regardless of quality.  That's just more good news for savvy drinkers who enjoy wine, not labels or bragging rights.

Most of the wines that I tasted for this article come from the 2012 and 2011 vintages, which tend to be quite different in character--but, as one might expect, not always.  Generally speaking the '11s, from a cooler year, are forward and almost all ready to drink, while the wines from the warmer 2012 vintage are broader and fleshier, with darker fruit character and stronger tannins.  They're also a year younger, so keep that in mind.  It's the rare 2012 that won't benefit from a little aeration if you plan on opening it right now, but there's no need to overthink it. These are mostly wines to enjoy soon after release, for their fruitiness and vivacity, and especially while you wait for your more ageworthy wines to come into their own over the coming years.