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  • Elizabeth Bowman

New Trends in a Changing Climate - Côtes du Rhône

Updated: Apr 8

Diana of Wine Events Scotland brings a spring treat to the beautiful Riddles Court in Edinburgh with Matt Walls, author of the Classic Wine Library’s ‘bible’ on Côtes du Rhône .

It’s easy to forget this reliable French wine region, given the avalanche of new wine-producing areas and grape ‘discoveries’ elsewhere. Matt shows us this large, varied region is not standing still but continually improving and adapting to current and future challenges. Younger generations of winemakers (including many more women than before) are, unlike their farming forebears, now often holders of oenological degrees, using new methods and equipment alongside a fresh outlook.

Unlike much of France, the Côtes du Rhône /CdR Villages appellations benefit from more versatility, being known for blends rather than strictly single varietals, with up to 23 grapes to play with alongside the three stalwart grapes of white (Viognier, Marianne & Roussanne) and red (‘GSM’ - Grenache, Syrah & Mourvèdre) wines. Some are now experimenting with levels of the ‘accessory grapes’ - for example Counois and Caladoc.

Along with Grenache and Carignan, Counoise is particularly suited to the rise of drought conditions and poor soils. Both the latter are known to help retain acidity in the face of hotter temperatures that could otherwise result in flabby, overripe wines.

We taste a Caladoc-heavy rosé (Ch de Montfrin) to which the high acidity of Caladoc lends a refreshing and appetising redcurrant touch with a mineral edge. This grape also can produce higher alcohol levels when ripe so it’s down to the winemaker's art and skill to decide the best picking date for the desired balance.

We enjoy some N Rhone whites of different styles. Reduced disease pressure on vines due to cold Mistral winds, and hand-harvesting on steep riverbank slopes, means many established producers farm organically. One of the new Chapoutier generation, grown on ‘galet’ stones with warming clay below, uses Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and Clairette, harvested at night for freshness and aged for six months on its lees in stainless steel (Adunatio).

The region produces excellent value for money with full-bodied delicious wines. We taste a CdR Villages red (Ch Courac) from Laudun, featuring the Counoise grape in the mix, grown on sandy soils. Really spicy and mouth filling after lees-stirring -a bargain (Tanners) as this village is soon to be elevated to ‘Cru’ status, which will further raise the price.

If it’s been some time since you tried this beautiful area’s rewarding wines, it’s worth sampling a selection again to refresh your taste memory and toast their ongoing success. (E. Bowman)

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