Food and drink: The red côtes are coming, the red côtes are coming! 

2007 – the perfect Rhone Valley vintage

If experience has taught me anything about buying wine, it's to strike at all price levels when a vintage is considered by all in the region to be exceptional. That means what's good for the region's best wines is usually even more effective for its lesser lights - case in point, 2007 Rhone Valley reds.

Conditions in the vineyard were reported to be near perfect - the ripening process was slow and steady, producing rich, fruity, exuberant red wines.

Armed with that type of information, you can plan your attack beginning with the entry level Côtes du Rhone and the Côtes du Rhone Villages blends (already in the market) and eventually, as they're released into the market, all the bigger name, single village appellation wines especially from the north.

The Rhone is essentially split into two production zones: the northern section where the long lived syrah reigns supreme in Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, St Joseph and Cornas; and the southern reaches where Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a blend of as many as 13 grapes, heads up a plethora of alluring and affordable red blends that contain mostly grenache and syrah and are labelled Côtes du Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages or, as mentioned, are simply the standalone village wines such as Gigondas, Cairanne and Rasteau.

Historically, the Côte du Rhône was an administrative district in the Gard region of southern France where the wines were thought to be particularly renowned.

Amazingly, as early as 1650, regulations were put in place to guarantee or protect the origin and quality of the region's wine. In fact, an official edict of the king in 1737 stated that all casks used to hold and sell the regional wine be branded with the letters "C.D.R.", clearly referencing its Côte du Rhône origin.

By the middle of the 19th century, the singular Côte du Rhône became Côtes du Rhône and not only included the beloved right bank vineyards planted by the Romans but all the vineyards along the left bank of the river, too.

In 1937 a gentleman known as Baron Le Roy created the AOC or Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée Côtes du Rhône and the game was on.

By 1966 the region's vignerons were in agreement that there was a certain style or, at the very least, typical characteristics found in Côtes du Rhône reds that needed protection. By implementing rules that ensure 40 per cent of any wine labelled Côtes du Rhône AOC contains the coveted grenache grape, local growers hope to protect the soft, fleshy, lively flavours that make the Côtes reds so alluring.

In all, some 24 grapes have the legal right to be grown inside the Côtes du Rhône appellation, although the ones most likely to be included in any blend are grenache, cinsault, mourvèdre, syrah, carignan and counoise.

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