Wine lovers around the world will undoubtedly know and love the French appellation of Côtes du Rhône and its famously reliable, versatile, bold red wines. Helena Nicklin delves a little deeper into this lauded wine production area to showcase two high class ‘cru’ within it that deserve a little more attention: Cairanne and Lirac.
It’s not every wine region that can produce wines that cover all your bases, from a midweek bolognese to high-class restaurant dining via brilliant gifting opportunities, but Côtes du Rhône is just that. This versatility is possible thanks to an incredible choice of vineyards and grape varieties for blending, meaning the appellation ( i.e. delimited production area) can offer four distinct quality levels.
The quality levels of Côtes du Rhône wines
Those brilliant, midweek bottles for when you want to choose something reliably good without breaking the back tend to be straight Côtes du Rhône AOC wines. These are mostly red wines with a tiny percentage of white and pink made with grapes grown all over the whole appellation.
A step up the quality ladder then takes you to Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC, where the winemaking rules are more strict, and only grapes from certain villages can be included.
Above that level, we have Côtes du Rhône Villages with a named village on it (there are twenty-one of these) and then at the top of the quality tree, we have the Côtes du Rhône’ cru’. These are wines from single villages that have been noted for their distinctive terroirs and so have earned the right just to state the name of the village on the label along with the AOC statement.
What are Cairanne and Lirac wines?
There are seventeen of these ‘cru’ wines that all deserve attention for their individual merits, but two of them really stood out for me recently when I hosted an event called The Unexpected Wine Tasting. Enter Lirac AOC, the oldest of the cru with its status dating back to 1947. Located down in the south of the region, northeast of Avignon, Lirac wines are largely red with a smattering of whites and pinks and all are made with the classic Rhône grape varietals.
Lirac red wines are bold and powerful, packed full of ripe red and black fruit with notes of garrigue herbs and a spicy kick. These reds can handle hearty meat stews or grilled steaks and vegetables. They make fantastic dinner party choices as they tend to be a bit of a wine show stopper.
Cairanne is the newest of the cru, achieving its own AOC status only in 2016. Located further north, to the northeast of Orange, the wines here are 95% red and usually made up of a blend of the big three Rhone grapes: Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre with a smattering of Carignan and Cinsault here and there. If the Côtes du Rhône had a poster child for a classic style, Cairanne would be it.
The reds here are full-bodied and silky smooth with lots of black fruit and an elegant, more mineral in structure. Drink them alone, or they make a great match for charcuterie, Sunday roasts with all the trimmings and even some hard, nutty cheeses, particularly Comté. Like Lirac, it can age well but is equally delicious when young.
Here are some wines from Lirac AOC and Cairanne AOC to try at home. They’re perfect for the festive season and make great gifts for under the tree:
Domaine Brusset Cairanne ‘Vieilles Vignes’ 2016.
Made from old vines and with some impressive bottle age, this Cairanne from Brusset is seductive and silky with notes of blueberry pie and dried herbs. Stunning.
Where: Find it at The Big Red Wine Company for £17.00 a bottle.
Domaine Roche Cairanne, 2019
A beautifully scented wine packed with notes of dark fruits, cedar and thyme. Elegant and elegant, and food-friendly, it’s exceptional value for money.
Where: Find it at Lea and Sandeman for £18.95.
Domaine Coudoulis – Lirac Cuvée Hommage 2019
A knockout red that has excellent label appeal to boot. With a blend headed up by Grenache and Syrah, this wine is juicy and supple with lots of ripe black fruit flavours.
Where: Find it at generalwine.co.uk for £19.99.
Lirac, Les Closiers, Ogier 2018
A seriously powerful, bramble fruit-scented wine with lots of baking spice notes. Made with a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and a splash of Cinsault, it’s big but approachable.
Where: Find it at Ocado for £11 a bottle when bought as a six.
The Neon event photographs are courtesy of Liam Dickson: @dicksonliam.
Read more guides on wines and spirits from Helena here.