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Côtes du Rhône: A River Runs Through It
Drinkable and affordable, côtes du rhône might be the perfect go-to dinner wine. Quaff some knowledge from this Groupon guide.
Some 100,000 acres of vineyards line the gently sloping plains of the Côtes du Rhône, a segment of the Rhône river valley that winds from Vienne in the north to the ancient papal seat of Avignon in the south. CDR, as it’s known, is one of France’s largest appellations d’origine contrôlée (AOCs)—areas with their own specific names for wine that no other region can legally use. (Other examples include Bordeaux and Champagne.) The area produces 250 million bottles of wine every year, almost all of it red, and much of it affordable; a decent bottle can be had for $15. This lower price point makes CDR a popular choice for drinking by volume, particularly at a casual bistro dinner. Because the region produces so much wine, the flavors you’ll find may be widely variable, ranging from light bodied to almost syrupy, ultrafruity to restrained and balanced. The core style, however, is known for being medium bodied and earthy, with occasional herbal notes. Traditional côtes du rhônes pair well with hearty dishes ranging from grilled steak to pizza.
As with all AOC wines, there are strict rules for what can and cannot go into a côtes du rhône. In the north of the region, closer to Lyon, growers raise exclusively syrah grapes. (The same varietal is called “shiraz” in the New World.) But farther south, where the bulk of CDR wines are produced, vintners can mix and blend their choice of 23 grapes, including grenache, mourvèdre, and carignan. Wherever their origin, modern côtes du rhônes tend to pack a punch: a 2011 New York Times survey of the genre found the bottles they sampled ranging from 14% to 15% alcohol, as compared to an average of 11%–12% for wines in general.
Iris Rideau was born in New Orleans, the city's famed food and drink forever defining her palate. As soon as she visited California, though, she fell in love with sunny beaches and rolling wine-country valleys. She ran several successful businesses there, helped champion the cause of affirmative action within the state, and in the '90s, headed to retirement on the 23-acre winery she'd spent her professional career slowly building. She called this haven Rideau Vineyard.
Iris, still passionate about the food of her childhood, felt that France's Rhône Valley wines best complemented the spicy Creole sauces she so loved. So, she dedicated her entire property to the production of those rare varietals, importing some second-generation Château de Beaucastel winery vines. She began growing Syrah, Mourvèdre, Roussanne, and Viognier grapes. As soon as her first bottles were ready, she invited her friends over for a series of Creole-inspired dinners that paired each dish with one of her wines. And of course, each evening was enhanced with the same traditional jazz music that seems to permeate the air in New Orleans. The experiences became wildly popular, and she expanded them to invite the public.
Even if they don't participate in the wine-and-food events, Rideau Vineyard's visitors can still sample Iris's award-winning wines in the unique tasting room—a two-story adobe built in 1884. It once served as a popular stagecoach stop and guest ranch on a famous route between Santa Ynez and Santa Barbara. Iris restored and renovated it, and the building now has historical landmark status from Santa Barbara County.