At the generic level, the official AOC Côtes du Rhône region stretches 200 km from Vienne in the north to Avignon in the south and from the foothills of the Massif Central in the west to the fore-slopes of the Vaucluse and Luberon mountains east of the town of Orange. 171 communes in the French departments of Ardèche, Bouches du Rhône, Drôme, Gard, Loire, and Vaucluse are concerned with production from the 83,839 (2008) hectares of vineyard. The average yield is 52 hectolitres per hectare. Wines of all three colours must have a minimum alcohol content of 11%. The average annual production of CDR of around 3.3 million hectolitres – 419 million bottles – (2005/2006), is assured by 5,292 concerns including 5,202 growers, 875 private producers, 70 co-operative wineries, and 20 merchant/producers and blenders, making it one of the largest single appellation regions in the world.
A white Côtes du Rhône wine, in this case dominated by Viognier and Roussanne
There are two sub regions of Rhône wines:
1. Côtes du Rhône septentrional in the northern part of the region from Vienne to Valence. The vines are cultivated on very steep slopes making the harvest extremely arduous. The grapes are manually picked and have to be hauled up the hillside on trolleys, a feature which adds to the price. Syrah is the dominant red grape in this area.
2. Côtes du Rhône méridional from Montélimar to Avignon in the southern latitudes, produced by 123 communes. The great majority of these are cultivated on the eastern side of the Rhône between the river bank near the town of Orange, and the Vaucluse-Luberon chain of mountains. The wines here are anchored by Grenache noir but typically include other grapes such as Syrah and Mourvedre. The reds range in color from deep crimson and ruby to almost purple and are generally full-bodied with rich but smooth tannins, though Lirac and others from the right bank tend to be somewhat lighter. They all go very well with game and other rich meat dishes.
The whites range from dry with a tang of citrus to fuller, rounder wines which can be consumed as an aperitif. Condrieu, a septentrional, is one of the rarest white wines in the world and is produced from 100% Viognier – a notoriously difficult grape to vinify.
Year of Production : In general, the year-to-year climate of the region remains fairly constant although there may be rare occasions of spring frost which may damage the buds, thus reducing the overall yield. Drought may also affect the quantity of production. Sunlight levels are usually the average to be expected. The year of production on a label is therefore not necessarily a sign of any particular quality due to exceptionally favourable wine growing weather; it is more indicative of how the wine can be expected to have matured over a number of years.