La Châsse Côtes du Rhône Reserve (Sainsburys)

Côtes du Rhône. A true classic. Pronounce it ‘cot doo ron’ and you’re not too far off. But don’t blame me if a French person’s response is “Quoi?”, accompanied by a facial expression that makes you feel about as big as a grape.

The supermarkets and most independent wine merchants will usually stock at least one of these wines. So it’s worth taking a moment (or a paragraph or two) to understand what they’re all about.

The Côtes du Rhône area is part of the Southern end of the Rhône valley in the South of France. It’s pretty hot down there, and Grenache, which is the area’s principal grape, loves that heat.

Grenache usually makes for quite a ‘soft’ red wine: not too acidic and not very tannic (meaning it doesn’t dry your mouth out so much, like some reds do). It’s noted principally for strawberry and/or raspberry flavours, but sometimes with more exotic things too, such as sweet spices (cloves, cinnamon).

The trend in the Côtes du Rhône area has long been to ‘season’ Grenache by blending it with other grapes, and La Châsse follows that tradition. The label lists three other grapes, but doesn’t tell you the quantities of each. It just teases you by telling you that they aged the Syrah element in oak barrels before adding it to the blend. OK, I confess, that one worked on me.

Much like with the Pinotage that I reviewed yesterday, this wine surprised me. It’s quite a lot more acidic than a typical Côtes du Rhône, and my reckoning is that they’ve put quite a lot of Syrah in the blend. This sends the wine Northwards, in a sense anyway – most wines from the Northern bit of the Rhône valley are 100% Syrah.

But is this a good thing? That depends on your taste. In terms of flavours, you get the usual Grenache fruit, and the Syrah adds just a touch of pepperiness. It’s still not very tannic, but that acid does make your mouth water, and it makes the wine unusually refreshing for a red. What it doesn’t quite have is the soft, ‘easy-drinking’ nature of other Côtes du Rhône wines I’ve tasted.

The jury is out. But it might struggle to reach a verdict.

Tom BradfordLa Châsse Côtes du Rhône Reserve (Sainsburys)

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