Understanding Côtes du Rhône

Understanding Côtes du Rhône

Understanding Côtes du Rhône

Understanding Cotes du Rhone

If, like me, you are totally flummoxed by the many different bottles, all with Côtes du Rhône on the label then you are not alone.

Look on the shelf at the store for a bottle of CDR (Côtes du Rhône) and there are rows and rows, all seemingly the same. 

I like a CDR - it’s my “go to” wine, always predictable and never really offending my palate. But there are SO many that I have a hard time choosing.

Ultimately choice comes down to price for most people unless they have found a label or name that they really like.

Understanding Cotes du Rhone

I recently spent quite a bit of time in the Rhône and when I went there I thought I knew a bit about the area.

That quickly changed when I started visiting places and trying wines that I had never heard of, yet all of them had CDR on the label.

To say I was confused was an understatement so I used my time there wisely by trying to learn a little bit more about this immense and complex area.

Unfortunately I had to taste quite a lot of wines too!

Here’s some quick info that might make things a bit easier to understand next time you go looking.

Understanding Cotes du Rhone

The Rhône Valley is enormous and split into two significantly different areas: the Northern Rhône where Shiraz is king and the Southern Rhône where Grenache is more prominent.

I’m concentrating on the Southern Rhone where Côtes du Rhône is.


Where and What is it?

Located in southeastern France the Southern Rhône stretches north from the city of Avignon to Montelimar just to the north and in each direction east and west. 

Size, 83,800 ha (207,000acres), 380 million bottles are produced annually, it's hot, dry and can be super windy making you run for cover sometimes - especially if you are on a bicycle!

Côtes du Rhône AOC is the region’s largest appellation running across 6 different departments (Ardèche, Drôme, Gard, Loire, Rhône, and Vaucluse), covering an area of 44,000 hectares.

The Southern Rhône’s big hitter is Châteauneuf-du-Pape which everyone has heard of. The AOC, takes its name from a castle constructed by Pope John XXII in the early 14th century and authorizes over a dozen red and white varieties for its wines, but in practice CDR reds are composed of Grenache, with lesser amounts of Mourvèdre, Syrah, Counoise and Cinsault.

Understanding Cotes du Rhone

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

Understanding Cotes du Rhone


Don't be, if you don't remember anything about what you've just read try to remember this;

If the label only says Côtes du Rhône it's going to be an easy drinking entry level Rhône blend. Your every day BBQ wine.

If the label says Côtes du Rhône Villages - it'll be as above but a bit more refined and can be aged. Your Friday night wine.

If the label has Côtes du Rhône Villages + Village Name - these are are a step up with (almost) guaranteed quality, ageability and refined flavours. Your Sunday roast wine.

If the label has one of the AOC Villages as above - these are terroir driven blends that are unique, good quality, ageworthy and at the top of it's game. Your Christmas wine.


All of them are pretty special regardless of the day or occasion!

Drink This: 

Château St Jean constantly produce great quality wines, try this CDR Villages Plan de Dieu

CDR Plan de Dieu
Wine Tags: 

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