Basically here’s the low-down on the AOC’s and labels:
The wines of the Southern Rhône are divided into 4 levels that go from entry level up in terms of quality and strictness of rules :
1. Côtes du Rhône AOC - that’s what you see on the label
50% of the valley’s production, entry level and great value which is why we love them!
Grenache or Shiraz red blends grown on a variety of different soils.
Must have a minimum of 11% alc.
These are easy drinking, food friendly wines and are perfect for everyday drinking.
2. Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC - that’s what is written on the label
The next step up in terms of classification with stricter rules
Wines are more complex with lower yields and slightly higher alcohol
Good aging potential although are drinkable upon release
3. Côtes du Rhône (named) Villages AOC - label has CDR with a village name included
There are 20 (or 21? it changes often!) Villages that have been deemed as worthy of a separate AOC where they are allowed to add their village name to the CDR label.
Strict rules and stated % of major grape variety (grenache)
Wines with great aging potential and less yield - smaller concentrated production
Cairanne, Vaison-la-Romaine, Visan, Suze-la-Rousse, Puymeras, Séguret, Saint-Gervais, Sainte-Cecile, Valréas, Signargues, Roaix, Sablet, Rochegude, Gadagne, Chusclan, Rousset-les-Vignes, Saint-Pantaléon-les-Vignes, Saint-Maurice-sur-Eygues, Laudun, Massif d’Uchaux, Plan de Dieu
I have to admit to only knowing a few of these names before I studied a bit more especially since vineyards are becoming more and more creative with their labeling. So if you're unsure keep this list then you'll know what's what.
4. The Crus - the label will the name of the region e.g. Gigondas
Terroir driven and exceptional small production (ish) wines
Very strict rules for growing and production
Ageworthy and noteworthy
Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC, Gigondas AOC, Beaumes des Venise AOC, Lirac AOC, Tavel AOC, Rasteau AOC, Vacqueyras AOC