Classically French

Where can you get a bot- tle of red wine from a household-name French appellation, with the perceived added value of a lesser-known region within that appellation, and all for less than £6?

The answer is: practically anywhere, thanks to the Rhône.

Rhône wine exports to the UK grew 39% to nearly 33 million (£28 million) in the first half-year of 2013 compared to the year before – a result that stabilised figures for French AOC wines as a whole.

That growth was mainly driven by Côtes du Rhône Villages, which grew export volumes by 87% in 2012.

Most Villages wines are priced between £5 and £6, and producers see them – particularly lesser-known villages – as a key place to source great value wines.

“Côtes du Rhône wines provide quality within a competitive price bracket,” says Inter Rhône marketing director Olivier Legrand. “Côtes du Rhône Villages are definitely leading in terms of quality for the price ratio on the UK market.

“ In 2012, Côtes du Rhône Villages contributed to the increase of the Rhône category by 90%, adding 1.3 million litres to its exports. At an average £5.18 per bottle, they are positioned within the most dynamic price range.”

Tim North, UK director of Les Grands Chais de France, says: “The big opportunity is in the lesser-known villages. There is some fantastic value to be had and that is something we are really going to focus on for the next year.

“You can get some really different, intense, full-flavoured wines which are reasonable compared to the best-known crus such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape – and even with things like Gigondas and Vacqueyras the costs are quite high.

“We are looking to do things with some lesser-known villages, where the price will be above £10 but will probably be promoted to below £10.”

But he is quick to point out that the Rhône isn’t just about being cheap and cheerful.

“The Rhône produces nice, soft, fruity, but at their best intense and spicy wines which the UK consumer really likes. There is some great value at the entry point, but in terms of branded and better quality the Rhône offers a style the UK consumer really likes.”

At Dedicated Wines, director Richard Evans says sales of mid to premium-sector wines are performing well.

“We have seen our Les Dauphins brand go from strength to strength,” he says. The Côtes du Rhône Reserve was launched three years ago, followed by Villages Grande Reserve, Rosé and – in July this year – Reserve Blanc.

“All of these wines are listed by multiple retailers,” adds Evans. “The branding is impactful and the wine inside the bottle is premium, but at an affordable price, ranging from £7 to £8.50.”

Liberty Wines’ David Gleave MW says great value at all levels is helping the Rhône overcome some reservations caused by an over-dominance of oaky flavours and widespread brettanomyces taint in traditional Rhône wines.

He says: “The Rhône is doing very well for us at present. We have taken on several new producers in the past year, particularly from the northern Rhône, which have boosted interest and sales in these wines.

“The region has historically been dominated by a few established names that have set prices high but, by working with a new generation of growers, making the best wines in their specific appellation, our portfolio offers not only clean, fruit-driven wines but also great value to the customer.

“The region offers better value than Bordeaux, while its diversity – and the restless pursuit of quality undertaken by the best producers – makes it more exciting than Burgundy.

“The shift from a scene dominated by large co-operatives and negociants to one where young growers and micro-negociants are now making the best wines has been exciting to watch.

“The excitement lies in the way the fruit and land are expressed in the wines and represents a fantastic opportunity to change perceptions of the region,” he adds.

A group of producers from AOC Grignan-les-Adhémar has teamed up to promote the northern-most AOC in the southern Rhône. The appellation recently changed its name from Côteaux du Tricastin because producers were unhappy that the name associated them with a nearby power plant.

They are now targeting the UK media in the hope they will tell consumers about the region, which has soils ranging from limestone-clay terraces to pebbles and gravel and is surrounded by lavender fields and truffle oaks.

UK spokeswoman Louise Hill said: “The wines made there offer all the elegance and poise of the north combined with the charm and ripeness of the south.

“The wines are incredibly good value too and represent a fantastic opportunity for UK retailers to offer their customers great quality wines from a unique terroir in the Rhône, one of France’s best known classic regions, at excellent prices.”

Winning campaign

Inter Rhône’s Think Red,Think Côtes du Rhône campaign is the most effective UK wine campaign, according to trade professionals.

A Wine Intelligence poll of 100 people in the wine trade for Inter Rhône revealed that 73% knew about the campaign when prompted, and 68% knew some of its marketing activities – higher figures than for Chile, Argentina, Bordeaux or Australia.

The campaign has been running since the late 1990s and, although it phased out its cartoon hippos in the late noughties over fears they might appeal to children, it has kept its strategy the same all that time.

Inter Rhône marketing director Olivier Legrand says:“Our aim for the UK trade campaign is to have a clear position on the market, underpinned by a coherent communications strategy with a long-term outlook. We constantly look to innovate the Côtes du Rhône campaign and find better ways of communicating with both the trade and consumers.”

Suppliers too seem pleased with the campaign.“It has taken one theme and built on it and that, to me, is one of the hallmarks of a successful campaign,” says Tim North of Les Grands Chais de France.

Dedicated Wines director Richard Evans adds: “It is the best generic consumer and trade marketing plan of all countries and regions. Its message is clear and effective.”

The campaign sponsored Yoko Ono’s Meltdown festival this summer, and is running its 10th annual Halloween quiz for the trade on October 25.

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