Cotes du Rhone. It’s a surprisingly well known wine in a world where the wines people are generally more comfortable with come with varietal designations as opposed to regional ones.
Sure there are Chianti, and Bordeaux, but how many other regional appellations are most people familiar with? And is there any other that is exclusively focused on wines that are, or really I should say were, value priced.
Yes even humble Cotes du Rhone have been bitten by the exuberant bug! It’s a classic case of high tides lifting all boats. The prices for Chateauneuf du Pape, the pinnacle of the Grenache based Rhone blends, have enjoyed a meteoric rise over the past decade. Driven by critical hype more than anything else as these are neither particularly rare wines, except among the explosive proliferation of luxury cuvees, nor particularly challenging to farm,though the ever escalating pricing for these wines left a void in the marketplace. What to buy when your $40 Chateauneuf becomes $75? For a year or two it was a $28 Gigondas, but that is now $40, so what is next? Why $40 Cotes du Rhone of course!
Seriously. That is happening. The light, fresh, fruity and totally enjoyable, not to mention practical Cotes du Rhone has become the next inflictor of sticker shock. Of course there are still many great values out there. In fact most of the wines continue to be value priced, but for how long? There will always be great values in Cotes du Rhone, they simply produce too much wine to make the jump to luxury pricing, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not trying.
You see the first thing one does when one makes their wine more expensive is to justify the price increase. That usually means making your wine more. More black, more fruit, more alcohol, more wood, more extract. You get the picture. Is that what we want from our Cotes du Rhone? Sure on occasion I can see that, but the category as a whole risks losings its identity if it continues down the blacker is better path. Will the next generation of wine lovers be as familiar with the name Cotes du Rhone, or will this “improvement” of the brand lead them down the path Australian Shiraz blazed in the last decade?
It’s a real risk. For the moment a few producers, perhaps with three dozen bottlings among them, have braved the $30 barrier. And certainly, some of these wines with their fabulous terroir and ancient vines deserve the pricing they are trying to get, but not all. And the competitive effect this pricing escalation has on the marketplace as a whole is troubling. Of course when you look at the issues facing producer in Europe today, plummeting consumption paired with peak plantings, it’s totally understandable that each will want to maximize their share of a shrinking market. That means producing less, which in turn means charging more. I get that. But does producing less have to mean jacking up your wines? If you want to charge much more, then the sad answer is of course yes.
I for one will happily pay a bit more for the beautifully playful and pure Cotes du Rhone. The $8 bottle has become the $12 bottle. we as consumers need to support that idea, lest the category of terrifically fresh and bright wines disappears entirely, replaced by yet another version of something that resembles wine, from someplace wine is produced. Perhaps I am too much of a pessimist, though I see this trend all over. In an effort to see how current Cotes du Rhone stack up against its competition, and there is plenty of competition with value priced Rhone blends being produced virtually around the globe, I put together two cases of predominantly Grenache based wines to see how they fared.
The answer is mixed.
While Cotes du Rhones represented fully half of the top ten wines of the tasting, the “best” wines are not necessarily what I think of or am looking for when I’m thinking Cotes du Rhone. The wines that most fit that bill were the wonderfully familiar 2012 VRAC Cotes du Rhone ($12), the super 2011 Domaine Pelaquie Cotes du Rhone ($12),the 2009 Domaine de la Bouysse Pays d’Hauterive ($10), and the 2012 Delas Ventoux ($11).
Still this is a fascinating segment of the marketplace, and one where it still does make sense to compare wines from around the globe, which is much more reasonable when comparing varietally bottled wines and a true rarity when it comes to a blended wine, the only other case for it being comparisons of Bordeaux blends.
Where does all this leave the consumer? Still swimming in riches for the moment I would think. There is just too much great competition from around the world for anyone to think they can just slide by anymore. From within France of course, but also from such far flung corners of the globe as South Africa, Australia, Spain, and of course even the USA. Cotes du Rhone can still deliver the goods, and at a fair price, but they are not the only ones capable of doing so and consumers are catching on to that fact.