New Cotes du Rhone Releases

Most seasoned wine lovers will tell you that it's safer to buy by producer than by vintage or appellation, but 2010 in the Rhone Valley is one of those years where one can seemingly grab any wine off the shelf and at the very least be pleased with the purchase.  Great vintages like 2010 are distinguished by the fact that excellent wines are made across the spectrum, not just at the high end, which is a testament to a growing season that many producers have described as practically perfect.  What this means for consumers is that many wines at the Cotes du Rhone level will outperform wines from grander appellations from lesser years.  Indeed, many of the 2010s in this report show more complexity and depth than numerous examples of Gigondas, Vacqueyras and even Chateauneuf-du-Pape from difficult vintages like 2008 and 2011, which makes them seriously great values.

Speaking of 2011, this relatively cool vintage produced a number of easygoing, immediately drinkable wines that will appeal to wine drinkers who normally shy away from the Rhone Valley's richer examples.  But quality in '11 is far spottier than in 2010 so I'd advise dipping one's toes into the vintage carefully, especially if there are 2010s still available.

While none of the regions covered here get the attention, hype and high prices of their more esteemed neighbors, don't make the assumption that quality always takes a back seat to value in the "little" Rhone appellations.  Over the last decade a number of producers have been making wines that compare in quality to the best of the entire Rhone Valley, regardless of price.  Also, don't forget that many entry-level bottlings from the top estates of the area show much of the character that made those wineries famous, especially in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and prices for their Cotes du Rhone bottlings are often a fraction of those asked for the flagship wines.

There's a higher percentage of syrah- and viognier-based wines from the northern Rhone included in this year's report than usual, which should be of real interest to readers who feel increasingly shut out by the often high prices commanded by the north's top wines.  Most of the best wines are made by established producers in Cote-Rotie, Cornas and Condrieu, and I found the overall quality standard to be uniformly higher than than for wines from the south, which generally include much less syrah.  Bear in mind that these wines are produced in smaller--often much smaller--volume than those from the southern Rhone so some sleuthing is in order, but it will be well worth it.