In popular wine mythology, the French wine industry is static, unyielding to modernity. Depending on your point of view, that is either good or bad. In reality, the French have evolved quickly. They have recognized that the insular ways of the past no longer function in a globalized economy.
The Côtes du Rhône typifies what has happened in many French wine regions. Once its wines were the none-too-good tipples of bars and cafés, light and fruity if you were lucky, more likely tart and harsh. That sort of wine still exists in France, though a lot less of it than in generations past. Rarely do you find it in the United States. Once you could sell a lot of bad wine here if it was cheap enough. But now, there is too much competition among the good stuff.
The current generation of French winemakers understands this. Unlike their forbears, many have traveled widely, worked around the world and studied enology and viticulture at universities. How they use what they have learned accounts for much that has changed in Côtes du Rhône today.
In a tasting of 25 Côtes du Rhônes, the wine panel found a surprising number of plush, polished wines. Some were sleek and modern, so much so that they showed little trace of identity. They were fruity and well-made but not distinctive. Others were similarly well made yet displayed characteristic Rhône touches of earthiness and minerality. These tended to be our favorites. A few were clunky and overoaked; these we rejected.
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