Tasting Wine: Côtes du Rhône a good value

Côtes du Rhône is a blanket term for wines in the northern and southern Rhône covering areas not included in other appellations. Most of what we see on wine lists are Côtes du Rhône Village wines from the southern Rhône. There are also villages that take pride in their wines and have elevated the quality to the levels of other appellations in the Rhône.

Given the sheer volume of wines made under the Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC, there is a lot of wine that ranges from unremarkable to undrinkable. However, there are some really special wines. Some are for immediate consumption, while others can age for a few years.

By law, the red wines must contain 50 percent grenache and another 20 percent of syrah and/or mourvedre, and 80 percent of the whites must be composed of grenache blanc, roussanne, marsanne, bourboulenc, clairette and viognier.

There is also rosé made that follows the same guidelines as the red wines.

In general, the wines show a lot of fruit complemented by spice and earth. They tend to be light- to medium-bodied and have 13 percent to 14 percent alcohol.

There are a few Côtes du Rhône wines that are higher priced, but the beauty of this appellation is its value. Here are three picks.

Château Fonsalette Rouge, Côtes du Rhône, 2002:

This is made by Château Rayas, one of the most respected Châteauneuf-du-Pape producers, and it is a Côtes du Rhône extraordinaire.

In spite of the abysmal vintage, this five-year-old Fonsalette triumphs and I think will continue to be solid for another year or two.

Medium-bodied with potpourri, cayenne and white-pepper aromas, smoked meat, raspberry fruit and soft tannins, this wine has the layers of many a Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Suggested retail — $40

Château Signac, Côtes du Rhône Villages Chuscian, “Melodie d'Amour,” 2004:

Château Signac is in Gard, one of the most historic areas in the Rhône Valley, and the estate claims vineyards were first cultivated here by a Roman tribe 3,000 years ago.

Alain Dugas, who also makes the wine for Château La Nerthe in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, was brought on to oversee the winemaking and his excellence is evident.

With black cherry, cherry cola flavors, white pepper and floral overtones, this is a delightfully polished Côtes du Rhône.

Suggested retail — $18

Domaine Richaud, Côtes-du-Rhône Villages-Cairanne, 2005:

This is not your typical French-bistro Côtes du Rhône.

It is from the town of Cairanne, probably the best of the Côtes du Rhône towns.

Add Marcel Richaud’s skillful winemaking, and we have one serious but friendly wine here with blueberry, black cherry fruit and spice.

Suggested retail — $25

Pamela S. Busch is the proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.

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