The numerous small-holdings in the hills of the Ardèche that are well-served by efficient and established Cave Co-opératives collectively furnish some very well-made and competitively-priced wines that have become mainstays of this list. The Union des Vignerons Ardéchois operation, based in Ruoms, 18 kilometres south of Aubenas, is a default destination for characterful, single-varietal bottlings and über-reliable blends. Their red and white 'Les Terrasses' cuvées, that are blended from Merlot-Grenache Noir and Grenache Blanc- Sauvignon respectively, are both well-balanced, clean and fruity and intended to be jolly palatable with or without food. Commendably, they are bottled under screw-cap to conserve their youthful vigour, making them an ideal option for entertaining on a small or grand scale. A pure Chardonnay that is mid-weight, un-oaked and redolent of ripe orchard fruit looks very good value compared with anything emanating from the Côte d'Or on a similar budget. A sibling Viognier also has bags of varietal character with tropical fruit scents and flavours and an elegant dry finish. It makes an uplifting aperitif or partner to spicy Asiatic dishes.
The team at Ruoms are equally adept at producing attractive reds. The Cabernet Sauvignon has classic cassis and pencil shaving aromas and a juicy, berry-infused palate supported by fine-grained tannins. It's a failsafe red to have knocking around the kitchen to augment stews and fortify washer-uppers. A pure Pinot Noir is lighter both in colour and taste with lots of ripe, raspberry fruit and subtle wood-smoke aromas. It drinks well lightly-chilled and would make a perfect accompaniment to gilled pigeon breasts or freshly-foraged morels. The Union's extensive reach also takes in a blameless Côtes du Vivarais 'Réserve' bottling which is blended from Syrah and Grenache and has lots of dark, autumnal fruit with a backdrop of peppery tannins.
A more esoteric Grignan-les-Adhémar (formerly known as Coteaux du Tricastin) is made from a blend of Grenache Noir, Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvèdre and Carignan. It is an honest, country red that makes a fine partner for coarse pâtés or cassoulet.
The highly-regarded Cave de Saint-Désirat, which is located slap-bang in the centre of the Northern Rhône beside the busy Route Nationale 86, is celebrated as a source of keenly-priced Syrah but also bottles an excellent Gamay de l'Ardèche that has a long and loyal following among the Yapp cognoscenti. It has a bright, red berry bouquet and a ripe redcurrant and raspberry palate with pleasant peppery undertones and lends itself well to al fresco imbibing.
The anomaly on this page, in that it is made by a vigneronne independent and not a co-operative, is Christine Vernay's unimpeachable Syrah 'La Mirbaudie'. Although a humble IGP 'Collines Rhodaniennes', it is from mature rootstock grown in close proximity to Côte- Rôtie, so is something of a wolf in sheep's clothing. With an enticing nose of stewed black berries and a glossy palate of rich, dark fruit and well integrated oak, it drinks beautifully from release but will cellar well for 3-5 years.